It’s unfortunately too common that those with complex mental health conditions are targets for harsh judgments and preconceived notions. And with that, one such belief that targets those with schizophrenia is, “are people with schizophrenia dangerous?”
Understandably, schizophrenia often judged due to its complex symptoms and polarizing nature. There’s a belief that schizophrenia has the potential for violent tendencies. This is a fallacious depiction of the average patient.
So, are people with schizophrenia dangerous? We’re going to look at schizophrenia, understand its symptoms and shed light on the false belief that this condition can breed violence.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of those struggling with it. The symptoms are complex as they are multifaceted. They may come in waves or cycles, and the disorder is not temporary – it’s a life-life chronic condition. ¹
Unfortunately, the condition can cause a debilitating effect on a person’s daily functionality, inhibiting aspects of life such as school, work, and relationships. It’s common for those struggling to have breakdowns in cognitive processing, mood swings, and auditory and visual hallucinations.
Schizophrenia symptoms can be wide-ranging with many different aspects from mimicking depression to hearing voices. In order to differentiate symptoms, they’re set in two distinct classifications: positive symptoms and negative symptoms.
Positive symptoms are those that involve changes in a patient’s overall behavior and thoughts. These are positive because they are easily observable. To further the differences, positive signs add to the illness whereas negative symptoms take away.
Positive symptoms for schizophrenia include: ²
- Confused thoughts
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia affect the way in which a person experiences their mood and how to isolate themselves from others.
Most negative symptoms are relatable to other mental health disorders. However, when included with positive symptoms, they paint a comprehensive picture of schizophrenia. ³
These negative symptoms are wide-ranging. Therefore, in order for diagnosis, it’s common that a patient needs to present with two of these negative symptoms along with two positive signs routinely. ⁴ Here are such signs that can reflect a patient is experiencing negative symptoms of schizophrenia: ⁵
- Flat affect in facial emotions (i.e. not seeming to react or provide facial recognition to feelings).
- Isolation from friends and loved ones
- Noticeable change in communication, sleep, and eating habits as well as participation in activities that once brought joy
Are People with Schizophrenia Dangerous?
The fact that those with schizophrenia are more likely to be dangerous or violent is a horribly misleading belief. In reality, those with schizophrenia are as violent or dangerous as any other average person in society.
However, that isn’t to say that the capability for violence or dangerous behavior isn’t something to worry about or monitor. The patient and their support system have to be aware of troubling behavior as abnormal behavior is a fact of life for those with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia and Violence
The media depicts people with schizophrenia as being out-of-control people with violent tendencies that threaten those around them. This is a gross depiction that misrepresents those who truly struggle with this disorder.
Often, those with this condition aren’t violent in the slightest. ⁶ In fact, it’s far more common for those with schizophrenia to harm themselves than others, which is a situation we will cover in-depth later on in this article.
As it stands for hostility towards others, it’s true that there are those with schizophrenia that have acted with malice and we aren’t shying away from that. However, it’s important that we depict those with this affliction with realistic expectations.
The reality is that violent tendencies are an exception and not the rule for those struggling with schizophrenia. Most outwardly violent acts are done by those who are in deep psychosis – a situation that stems from those who haven’t been given the proper diagnosis or the right treatment.
Schizophrenia and Sex
Sexual activity for those with schizophrenia can be indicative of two ends of a spectrum relating to schizophrenic sexual activity.
Oftentimes, a typical schizophrenic is not all that sexually active. This lower sexual drive in those with schizophrenia stems from multiple different complications. Chief among them are a lower social interaction than the average person and side effects of medications used to stabilize symptoms. ⁷
There’s a belief that those with schizophrenia are more common to commit violent sexual acts, such as rape.
his belief is categorically untrue when you look at the data and the research. In fact, it’s more common for those with schizophrenia to be the victims of sexual crimes. This is especially true in women – with an average of 40% report being taken advantage of by partners in the past. ⁸
However, that isn’t to say that all schizophrenia patients experience little to no sex drive. Some do experiment with risky sexual behaviors which consists of their own consequences. Such inherent consequences that arise from risky sexual practices are: ⁹
- Engaging in rough sexual activity that is unwanted by one partner in particular.
- Breakdown in communication between partners which can make sex uncomfortable or unpleasant.
- Contracting or spreading sexual diseases such as gonorrhea, herpes, or in concerning cases serious STIs like HIV. ¹⁰
Schizophrenia and Suicide
It’s been shown repeatedly that those with schizophrenia are far more likely to harm themselves than others.
Research has provided figures and statistical data on psychosis-caused self-harm, in which 40-79% of patients report suicidal or self-harm tendencies. ¹¹ In fact, self-harm behaviors are unfortunately a common reason why those are brought in for evaluation that results in an initial diagnosis. ¹²
Those who struggle with schizophrenia at an early age, especially in their youth, are more susceptible to self-mutilation and suicide attempts. Namely, to try and escape the complications that arise from undiagnosed or newly diagnosed schizophrenia. ¹³
Behaviors that stem from the positive and negative effects of schizophrenia which can result in personal injury and death can seem innocuous at first but needs to be taken seriously. Such behaviors are: ¹⁴
- Deliberate burning, scratching, or picking of wounds
- Taking increasingly risky behaviors in order to harm or kill oneself including:
- Performing increasingly dangerous stunts
- Binge consumption of harmful substances including alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs
- In worsening and extreme situations proceeding with suicidal actions such as:
- Deep cutting of the extremities that include major vessels
- Jumping from extreme heights
- Overdosing on substances
So, Are People With Schizophrenia Dangerous?
Although it may seem at the outset that those with schizophrenia are dangerous due to the influence and impact of their symptoms, the reality is that a majority are not.
As we have discussed, the symptoms can result in making risky decisions. However, that isn’t to say these actions are borne out of a dangerous intention. Sometimes, it’s due to taking risks for heightened sexual experience or using known harmful substances in order to escape their problems.
In the case of outward physical aggression, it usually comes from serious degradation of a patient’s mental state. This is a result of a lack of consistent care. Schizophrenia can cause breaks from reality brought on by psychosis, often in the form of delusions or hallucinations.
It’s often the case that when those serious complex symptoms go without the proper care, it can result. in patients acting in an irregular manner. Such decisions that are made or behaviors that are done can cause consequences that are often preventable with the proper treatment plan.
The fear of people with schizophrenia become violent is built on stereotypes and false depictions. When we allow unconscious biases to control how we treat others, we isolate those that are struggling.
Schizophrenia is already a stigmatized condition and difficult enough to deal with on its own, we shouldn’t allow misleading beliefs to further target those suffering from this affliction.
Do you still have questions about whether people with schizophrenia are dangerous?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ American Psychiatric Association: What is Schizophrenia?
² Mayo Clinic: Schizophrenia – Positive Symptoms
³ National Library of Medicine: Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia: A Review and Clinical Guide for Recognition, Assessment, and Treatment
⁴ Frontiers in Psychiatry: Primary and Secondary Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia
⁵ National Health Services UK: Negative symptoms of schizophrenia
⁶ National Library of Medicine: Violence & Schizophrenia
⁷ National Library of Medicine: The Facts About Sexual (Dys)function in Schizophrenia: An Overview of Clinically Relevant Findings
⁸ King’s College of London: 40% of women with severe mental illness are victims of rape or attempted rape
⁹ Cambridge University Press: Sexuality in psychosis: dysfunction, risk and mental capacity
¹⁰ BMC Research Notes: Risky sexual behaviors of schizophrenic patients
¹¹ National Library of Medicine: Self-harm and suicide attempts in Schizophrenia
¹² National Library of Medicine: Nonsuicidal Self-Injury: Diagnostic Challenges And Current Perspectives
¹³ National Library of Medicine: Suicidal Behavior in Adolescents with First-Episode Psychosis
¹⁴ Naitonal Alliance on Mental Health: What Is Self-Harm?