Are Schizophrenics Dangerous?

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There is a common misperception, perpetuated by the popular media, that schizophrenics are dangerous and prone to violence. It is rare to see an article about a dangerous criminal contemplating an insanity defense that does not mention either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But in reality, most people diagnosed with schizophrenia are not violent or a danger to other people. And although we hear about violent schizophrenics in the news, the vast majority of violent crimes are not committed by people with schizophrenia. The hype surrounding violence related to schizophrenia is increased precisely because it is unusual, making for a more interesting news item.

Although violence among schizophrenics is rare, some with the disorder have a greater risk of acting violently than others, such those who experience delusions of persecution or those who have a substance abuse problem. It is rare for society at large to be in danger from a schizophrenic who becomes violent--the behavior is usually directed at family members within the home. And most often, schizophrenics pose the greatest threat to themselves--there is a 4% lifetime risk of suicide in people with schizophrenia.

So, while it is true that certain symptoms of schizophrenia may lead to violent behavior, the overall risk of violence among schizophrenics is small. As a group, people with schizophrenia do not present a significant risk to other people and it is incorrect to assume that they are inherently dangerous.