Schizophrenia and Violence

Schizophrenia, like all psychotic disorders, involves episodes in which the person is out of touch with reality. S/he may be experiencing delusions, in which a false belief is firmly held as real. Or s/he may have auditory hallucinations, such as voices talking to him/her or about him/her. At times, the voice(s) may order the person to do things. The person may also have visual hallucinations, in which the person sees people or objects. These experiences can be very frightening.

Schizophrenic Violence: A Myth

The question often arises as to whether individuals with schizophrenia are prone to violent behavior. The media often depicts mentally ill individuals as violent and out of control. However, the reality is that most schizophrenics are no more prone to violence than anyone else. In fact, most schizophrenics tend to be socially withdrawn and would rather not be bothered by others.

There are, however, factors which are predictors of violence or may play a role in violent behavior in schizophrenic individuals. These factors are:

  • A history of violent behavior prior to their illness
  • Substance or alcohol abuse or addiction
  • Not taking their medications
  • Certain types of delusions, particularly ones which are both persecutory and grandiose
  • Command hallucinations which tell them to harm others
  • People who have a history of violence or who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to commit violent crimes, which is equally true for the general population as well 1. Also, people who have a history of violent behavior are generally at a greater risk of future violent behavior, whether or not they are mentally ill.
  • When schizophrenics do become violent, it is usually towards someone they know, such as a friend or relative. Also, the violence is more likely to occur at home 2.

written by Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD

References

  1. Schizophrenia and Violence: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
  2. Are People With Schizophrenia Likely To Be Violent?

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