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Violence, Crime, and Schizophrenia

Updated on February 25, 2020
Mark O Richardson profile image

Mark is from Utah. He is married and has 3 children. He is a graduate of the University of Utah.

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Extreme, Rare Examples

Schizophrenia “causes paranoia, disorganized thinking, delusions, and hallucinations including irrational beliefs and seeing things, or hearing voices…” (Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, Statement on Violence Associated with Schizophrenia, 1997) Sometimes these people believe that a radio, television, or other source is speaking or giving instructions to them.

Only a small percentage of those suffering from schizophrenia are violent. But when there is no treatment or medication, especially over a long period of time, acts of violence, including homicide can occur. Violence is usually a result of irrational beliefs or feeling threatened (paranoia). Some schizophrenics not receiving treatment will use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, which contributes to violence. Other factors that cause violence: child abuse, helplessness, insults to masculinity in men, specific sexual abnormalities, death, alienation of a lover, loss of a job, and epilepsy. A sense of helplessness may intensify rage and belligerence. Overdose of prescriptions can also be a problem. Denial can be an obstacle.

Patients with schizophrenia may be involved in three types of aggressive behavior: destruction of property, aggression against oneself, or aggression against others.

Consider these examples of the three types of destructive behavior:

  • Some examples of destruction of property: One man smashed a store window because he believed a dinosaur was jumping out at him. Patients have thrown rocks at cars. One man attacked a telephone booth with an ax.
  • Examples of self-destructive behavior: one patient went to Sears, purchased a chainsaw, then took it to the women’s room and severely injured herself because of voices she heard. “Approx. 40% of people with schizophrenia attempt suicide and 10% complete the act, apparently as a result of the voices or to escape the suffering caused by the voices and other symptoms. By far the majority of serious violent acts…are directed toward themselves.” (Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan)
  • There are far more examples of violence directed toward others. Schizophrenics sometimes believe that voices are commanding them to kill. In Delaware County, PA, a judge ruled that a man was incompetent to stand trial in the slaying of wrestler David Schultz. All the psychiatrists who testified agreed that the patient suffered from psychotic delusions, and some of those doctors diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic (What it Means to be Psychotic, Schizophrenic, Paranoid by Marie McCollough) In 1848, a man was not admitted to the insane asylum because it was crowded. Shortly thereafter, instructed by voices, he killed his mother and father. In 1986, a man was not admitted to a local psychiatric hospital also because of overcrowding. Shortly thereafter, instructed by voices telling him to kill, he carried a sword aboard a Staten Island ferry and killed two strangers. A year earlier, a woman pushed a stranger into the path of a subway train. A New Jersey man felt his neighbors where persecuting and belittling him, made a list of his prosecutors, then systematically killed 13 people in 20 minutes. (Ex. From Surviving Schizophrenia by Torrey)
  • Some other examples of how schizophrenia affects other people: one woman refused to pay at restaurants because she was Jesus Christ reincarnated. One man was arrested for repeatedly following two men he believed were CIA agents and kidnapped his imaginary benefactress. Some people walk nude in the streets.

In the Disordered Mind-What we Know About Schizophrenia by Patrick O’Brien, it says…” …there is good evidence for tendency to paranoia among criminals. If one is prone to violence to begin with, then a disorganizing process like schizophrenia…may execrate those tendencies. A violent individual who becomes schizophrenic will be both violent and schizophrenic.”

However, “Reports of violent crime in the popular press often state that a schizophrenic patient was responsible, although the press report frequently reveals that the person was drinking or taking drugs at the time of the incident. Imprecise diagnosis encourages journalists to use the word schizophrenia indiscriminately and helps to give the condition a bad name.” (Cohen, Samuel I. The Lancet)

Violent crimes committed by persons with schizophrenia are sometimes publicized because of background, as when John Bradley, All-American hockey goalie and honors student at Bowdoin College, brutally killed his father and mother. Also, John Hinkley Jr., who was schizophrenic, tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan. In 1983, the son of Ronald Reagan’s tax attorney, a man with schizophrenia, killed his mother. Rosemary Kennedy, sister of JFK, was said to have wild moods, tantrums, and rage. She became kind of a wild animal by cursing and thrashing out. She would use her fists. She kit and kicked her grandfather in the summer of 1941. (Examples from Surviving Schizophrenia by Torrey)

“A worldwide 1996 study found that schizophrenic patients were 5 times more likely than people in the general population to be convicted of violent crimes. A Finnish study concluded that the risk of committing a homicide was about ten times greater.” (Conquering Schizophrenia)

In conclusion, a few solutions to schizophrenic violence: one-to-one confrontation is best. The patient should be helped to recognize their rage and other emotions so they can realize the consequences of their behavior. The supreme court has found that a psychiatrist has a duty to issue a warning when he encounters a patient who threatens violence.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Mark Richardson

Thoughts?

Submit a Comment
  • Mark O Richardson profile imageAUTHOR

    Mark Richardson 

    4 weeks ago from Utah

    That is crazy. I'm glad that he didn't harm you.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    Doris James MizBejabbers 

    4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

    Very interesting article, Mark. It makes me wonder if schizophrenia accompanies other illnesses, too. I worked with a young man who had Tourette's Syndrome. He seemed to really like me and "befriended" me. Later, he suffered a tragedy in his life, after which he turned on me and threatened to kill me. He was fired from his job for performance reasons, not for his threats. About 10 years later, he was convicted of killing his wife and went to prison where he later died. Although he had Tourette's, he was obviously a paranoid schizophrenic.

  • asereht1970 profile image

    asereht1970 

    4 weeks ago from Philippines

    Nice article. Nowadays there is really a big need to understand mental health better.

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