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Schizophrenia Stigma and Violence

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Stigma and Violence

In the past, people with schizophrenia were often put into institutions because it was believed they were dangerous or needed to be kept away from everyone else in society (or to hide the embarrassment of having a mentally ill family member). This is no longer the way that people with schizophrenia are generally treated. However, one of the lasting ideas from this period of history is that those with schizophrenia pose a danger to society.

Today, when schizophrenia is mentioned in the news, it is almost always in connection with some alarming crime that has happened by someone with the condition, such as murder because of the voices they heard. These stories have been popular in the media and have added to the public view that people with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous.

While there are certainly violent and murderous people who have schizophrenia and related mental illnesses, such individuals make up only a very small portion of the population of chronically mentally ill people. The majority of those with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, are non-violent people who never cause problems like this.

Large population studies that have looked at the relationship between violence and mental illness have shown at best that a small relationship between mental illness and violence exists. This small relationship between violence and mental illness is much less than the larger relationship between substance abuse problems and violence. There is far more risk that a person with a drug or alcohol addiction will harm you than will a person with schizophrenia. There is also far more risk that someone who harms you will be a 'normal' person rather than a person with mental illness simply because there are so many more 'normal' people out there.

The reputation that those with long-term mental illness have as being violent is very exaggerated and overblown. Unfortunately, the stigma of violence continues to affect those who suffer from these diseases.