Schizoaffective Disorder, Schizophrenia And Violence
People so often assume that those of us with mental illnesses like schizoaffective disorder (SZD) or schizophrenia are violent. The fact is that people with a mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator (Appleby, et al., 2001). In the wake of the horrific Orlando shooting, once again mental illness is blamed as a cause for the attack. And, once again, stigma regarding violence among those with mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, is reinforced.
SZD, Schizophrenia and Violence Stigma
I was at a Christmas party a couple of years ago, and the dinner conversation turned to mass shootings. One woman said, “The one thing you always hear about these shootings is that the shooter had a mental illness.”
The implied reasoning suggested that people with mental illnesses like schizophrenia must be bad – and violent – people. She probably wouldn’t have said this if she has known that I have schizoaffective disorder.
The sad thing is, she’s right: that is the one thing you hear about killers. And no one refutes it – not the mass media or advocates or experts. In the case of the Orlando shooting, the lesbian, gay, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community is speaking up for their rights. They should be – I applaud them. The Muslim community is speaking up because the shooter was Muslim and associated himself with terrorist groups that in no way represent most Muslims. Again, this is good. It’s really important that both of these communities have visibility and reinforce tolerance. But the mental health community also needs to have visibility.
I was watching a news segment on the shooting. The coverage featured a gay man who had tragically lost friends in the shooting and a Muslim man explaining why the Orlando shooter didn’t represent Islam. They spoke eloquently and from the heart. But why not also have a psychiatrist, for example, explain why Omar Mateen, the shooter, doesn’t represent people with bipolar disorder and that violence isn’t a symptom of bipolar disorder though some people with it may be violent and need treatment for it?
I’m not saying Mateen was a nice guy. He’s a mass murderer. He was abusive towards his first wife. She is quoted as saying he had bipolar disorder, but it isn’t clear how she came to this conclusion. She doesn’t say that he was diagnosed by a doctor. It seems to me that “bipolar” is the new umbrella under which we lump violent people. Next time you hear that stereotype, remember that people with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder are much more likely to be the victims of violent crimes rather than the perpetrators.
SZD, Schizophrenia and the Gun Violence Stigma
I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t like guns. I don’t know why everyone is so up in arms (no pun intended) about the second Amendment when they don’t seem to care as much about other amendments – not even the first Amendment.
Why don’t I like guns? Some people might find this stigmatizing, but I don’t like guns because I have schizoaffective disorder. People with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder are much more likely to die by suicide than the rest of the population. In fact, when people with mental illness cause harm with a gun, they are most likely to point the gun at themselves – and only themselves. President Barack Obama cited this in his famous speech in which he cried for the children killed in the Sandy Hook Massacre. I’ve lost people I love to suicide. And I am pretty sure that if I had a gun around, the world and my loved ones would’ve lost me, too.
What really makes me angry is that the media isn’t even trying to not stigmatize mental illness, and it’s not just in this case. Everyone is accepting that people with mental illness are bad and that they kill people. I’m writing this the Thursday right after the shooting, so maybe by the time this posts someone may have gone on television and stood up for people with mental illness. But I doubt it.
My Feelings About SZD, Schizophrenia and Violence
Appleby, L., Mortensen, P. B., Dunn, G., & Hiroeh, U. (2001). Death by homicide, suicide, and other unnatural causes in people with mental illness: a population-based study. The Lancet, 358, 2110-2112.
Photo by Elizabeth Caudy.
Caudy, E. (2016, June 30). Schizoaffective Disorder, Schizophrenia And Violence, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/creativeschizophrenia/2016/06/schizophrenia-schizoaffective-disorder-and-violence
Author: Elizabeth Caudy
Thank you so much for trying to stand up for those with mental illness.
Thank you for your comment. It means a lot to me.