Violence and trouble with the Law

People who exhibit unpredictable behavior can be frightening.

Likewise, patients with schizophrenia often behave in ways that are difficult to understand and sometimes scary.

Although the media tends to link schizophrenia and violence, research has shown that the majority of patients with schizophrenia are no more likely to be violent than someone without schizophrenia.

Most schizophrenia patients prefer to be alone and rarely wish to interact with other people. When violence does occur, it is most likely to be directed at family members or treatment team members rather than strangers.

Criminalizing the Mentally ill
Thousands of mentally ill Americans in prison aren’t getting the psychiatric care they need according to a report from the Human Rights Watch. The report also suggested that prison poplations have a disproportionately high rate of mentally ill people.

Prisons have disproportionately high rate of psychoses
In a 1998 report an estimated 8 percent to 19 percent have significant psychiatric disabilities.
Mentally Ill in U.S. population - 5%
Mentally ill in prisons -8% to 19%

Source: “Equpped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with mentall illness”. Human Rights Watch

One group of schizophrenia patients that is more prone to violence includes those who abuse alcohol or illegal drugs.

In fact, a recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry investigated the current relationship among schizophrenia, criminal behavior, and drug abuse.18 The study revealed that over the past 25 years, 22 percent of schizophrenia patients were convicted of a crime compared to only 8 percent of nonschizophrenics.

At the same time, drug use among schizophrenia patients also increased. Whereas 25 years ago only 8 percent of schizophrenics used drugs,  currently more than 26 percent have been found to use illegal drugs. Most schizophrenia patients are nonviolent, but patients who use illegal drugs may be more likely to commit a crime.

Heather Barnett Veague, Ph.D.
Heather Barnett Veague attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and received her Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University in 2004. She is the author of several journal articles investigating information processing and the self in borderline personality disorder. Currently, she is the Director of Clinical Research for the Laboratory of Adolescent Sciences at Vassar College. Dr. Veague lives in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.


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  19. Suicide and Mental Health Association International, "NARSAD Publishes Top 10 Myths About Mental Illness Based on Nationwide Survey." Available online. URL: http://suicideandmentalhealth Accessed February 22, 2007.

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