Schizophrenia As An Excuse For Violence!
In Ashley Smith’s July 27th blog post, “How Schizophrenia is Portrayed in the Media” , she decries the tendency of the media and the public to use schizophrenia as a scapegoat for many of the recent tragedies in this country. James Holmes, the suspect in the theater shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado over the summer, is believed by some to be mentally ill, although an official diagnosis has not been released to the public. Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused in the 2010 Arizona shooting rampage, was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia by mental health experts and ruled mentally unfit to stand trial. In a January 2011 Psychology Today article, Dr. Peter Langman states:
…it is important to emphasize that mental problems – even psychosis – should never be assumed to indicate a risk of violence. The vast majority of people suffering from psychosis never become violent, and most violent people are not psychotic. When the two domains do come together, however, it can reinforce the stigma associated with psychological problems. Rather than letting this happen, we need to use this as an opportunity to educate the public.
Education is really the key here. Educating families and loved ones of the mentally ill, educating the public about mental illness, and helping the mentally ill educate themselves, all serve to increase our understanding of mental illness rather than using a general diagnosis to explain violence. More recently, Naeem Davis, the man who was charged with second-degree murder in the December 3rd death of Ki-Suck Han says he was high on drugs and trying to combat voices in his head when he pushed Han in front of an oncoming New York City subway train. Davis stated that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his twenties, although he wasn’t taking any medication at the time. He also stated that he was under the influence of marijuana at the time, and that Han was intoxicated and had been harassing him. Davis said that he didn’t mean to kill Han. Although schizophrenia likely isn’t an issue in this case, a December 8th Associated Press article headline leads one to believe otherwise: Man Charged in Subway Rider’s Death Blames Voices. Anyone the least bit familiar with the symptoms of schizophrenia knows that people with this illness often hear auditory hallucinations or “voices”. The difference here is that Davis claims he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, an entirely different mental illness with a completely different set of symptoms, none of which include auditory hallucinations. Davis also claims that he was under the influence of marijuana at the time. Auditory hallucinations are not a known side effect of smoking marijuana either. I am concerned that increased media coverage [coverage that questions whether mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, is what drove men such as Holmes and Loughner to commit mass murder], may provide otherwise mentally healthy criminals an excuse for their crimes. A homeless man like Davis for example, who might have limited knowledge of schizophrenia or who might be familiar with the term “hearing voices”, may claim that this is what drove him to murder. Obviously it is up to a psychiatrist to determine his mental health status. As Dr. Langman states:
The vast majority of people suffering from psychosis never become violent, and most violent people are not psychotic.
I believe that the vast majority of people suffering from mental illness never become violent, and that most violent people are not mentally ill. We need to ensure that schizophrenia and mental illness in general do not become excuses for murder.