Link Between Schizophrenia and Crime

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Do you ever wonder what is going on in someone’s head? Many wish they had the power to read other’s minds but know that in the least they can mostly understand themselves. This is a luxury most of the general population experiences, but not all of it. Schizophrenics never completely know what is happening within their own mind let alone their conscious and subconscious. This is because schizophrenics cannot often trust what they see or hear because of some symptoms of the mental illness such as hearing voices, hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and cognitive issues (WebMD, 2017).

The Mayo Clinic defines schizophrenia as, a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally (2018). A schizophrenic brain distorts what a person sees, hears, believes, and how they express themselves. Essentially, a schizophrenic’s entire reality is warped. Some of the biological aspects of schizophrenia is that is lasts a lifetime and can be inherited genetically (Medoff, 2000). Often times, people with schizophrenia struggle with forming and maintaining relationships due to their condition. Additionally, the condition can make it difficult for schizophrenics to function properly within society. This can cause victims of the disorder to become withdrawn from society and suffer from the disease alone with very little to no help. Lack of resources or mental health education for individuals suffering from schizophrenia may result in negative outlets such as criminal behavior due to stigmas, social struggles, self-medication leading to substance abuse, unemployment, financial disarray, a lack of mental health training given to first responders, and prisons being used as fill-in mental institutions.

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A stigma is a mark of disgrace or infamy and a stigma that is associated with schizophrenia is that schizophrenics are dangerous and violent. Stigmas are an example of how schizophrenics will struggle socially within society due to the fact that schizophrenia is marked with such ugly stigmas due to a lack of education over the topic. While all stigmas have an ounce of truth to them, it is incorrect that all schizophrenics are violent. In a recent study by Swanson et al. (2006), the violence rate within 1,410 schizophrenia patients with two severity levels: minor and serious violence. It states that at the end if a six-month period there was in total a mere 19.1% reports of both levels of voice in total and serious violence was reported by 3.6% patients. This shows how few schizophrenics are actually violent and how it can be controlled therefore making the stigma untrue. Despite this, these negative attitudes remain and is one of the reasons why schizophrenics are unable to satisfy their social needs. Being seen as violent or dangerous makes it hard for them to create or maintain relationships with people knowing they have schizophrenia. This leads to increased anxiety, stress, sadness, and disassociation with others who view schizophrenia in theses ways which affects their life psychologically. Henceforth, because many schizophrenics often have no one they are able to or comfortable enough to talk to about their mental illness their condition grows worse along with their mental health. This can lead to them attempting to self-medicate in attempt to fix their psychological well being

Self-medication happens at an alarming rate for those who have schizophrenia. A way of coping or self-medicating with stressors and depression is through the use of drugs (alcohol or otherwise). The use of drugs is related to the psychological aspect of schizophrenia because it is often used as a stress relief of the illness. People with schizophrenia are reported to be about six times more likely to develop drug use disorders than the general public population (Bennet, Bellack, Brown, and DiClemente, 2009, p. 1). Many schizophrenics end up attempting to self-medicate through the use of drugs and alcohol in order to either cope with symptoms that come with schizophrenia (often times to either please the voices in their head or to drown them out) and/or to deal with the emotional toll the disorder brings. This unintentionally only leads to more problems with maintaining relationships, work, health, and the disorder itself which only makes it more likely for them to end up in illegal activity.

Another stigma associated with schizophrenia is that schizophrenics cannot and do not want to work. People want to work as it is a benefit financially, socially, and psychologically; people with schizophrenia are no different. Hengeveld (2015) argued that, Currently around 85 percent are unemployed, while research shows that as many as 70 percent would prefer to work. This points out how it is not that schizophrenics do not want to work but it is that they are often unable, thereby proving the stigma that schizophrenics cannot and do not want to work incorrect. In the article Hengeveld (2015) interviews a man with schizophrenia named Abdul-Ali Muhammad who said that when he worked he did not hear voices nor see hallucinations because it kept him busy, which benefitted him psychologically. So, if schizophrenics cannot work due to high unemployment rates how can they properly function or survive? And in the cases like Abdul-Ali Muhammed where work helped prevent the symptoms of schizophrenia, if they do not have a distraction like working or money for medicine, they will be unable to get rid of symptoms like sounds and voices except through harm or drugs. Therefore, if schizophrenics are unable to get or maintain a job and do not have anyone who can financially support them, how can they receive proper treatment?

The incredible amount of money one has to pay to receive proper treatment for schizophrenia is part of why schizophrenics get into illegal activity (such as drugs in order to self-medicate as previously states). Schizophrenia itself make it hard enough to function in society, but it is impossible for them to function properly if they cannot financially support themselves enough to pay for treatment. According to the online article, The Cost of Drugs for Schizophrenia, drug and treatment costs including inpatient and outpatient care were as high as $1,404 a month (2006, p. 2029). That is an incredible cost on top of every other bill they must pay and without a job or a financial crutch of some kind, it is impossible to pay therefore impossible to get proper care. To summarize, if schizophrenics cannot get treatment because they cannot hold a job to pay for how incredibly expensive it is, they are more likely to go into illegal activities such as drugs in attempt to self-medicate and/or succumb to the voices in their heads which may lead them to do other criminal or violent activity.

Having an episode at the wrong place, wrong time with schizophrenia is part of why schizophrenics get in trouble with the law. A schizophrenic episode could be described as having a sudden change in attitude, behavior, personality and loss of touch with reality. The severity of episodes varies from case to case but can be overwhelming to anyone around them. Within episodes, they may feel intensified symptoms such as hallucinations, sounds, voices. They hear or see seem so real that it is hard for them to decipher what is real and what is not. Whatever the case, if a schizophrenic is having an episode in public and a police officer happens to see them, the schizophrenic will only panic more, worsening the situation.

Police officers are often unable to recognize that someone with a mental illness, schizophrenia in this case, who may be having an episode and is not an actual danger to the public if handled properly. Instead, they are more likely to be aggressive with the schizophrenic who may mistakenly assault the officer and be sent to jail or worse, be shot down. If police officers were more educated and trained on how to recognize and deal with those with mental illness such as schizophrenia not as many schizophrenics would be sent to jail due to episodes of increased hallucinations, etc. This is a real issue for people with mental illnesses as they are 16 times more likely to die as a result of a police encounter than the general public according to the article, Police Need more Mental Health Training (2018). Also according to, Police Need More Mental Health Training, those who go through episodes or mental crisis’ due to mental illness are statistically more likely to encounter the police than medically trained professionals. To reiterate, people with mental illness who go into episodes are likely to encounter a police officer with little to no training on how to recognize or deal with someone going through a episode which may lead to arrest or death.

Prisons are often used as fill-in mental wards to hold the mentally ill which only prolongs their stay. Often times, mentally ill people, like schizophrenics, will be sent off to jail and then will not receive proper treatment. For example, a schizophrenic could go to jail and have all the documents proving they have schizophrenia and what medication or care they need and then not receive it. Jails do not provide the proper treatment or environment for the mentally ill and some cases cut down the dosage or take away medication all together. This improper treatment causes an individual’s psychological state worse, not better. For schizophrenics, this can cause more increased violence and distress due to a lack of treatment. This means they are more likely to get into fights or misunderstandings with other inmates or guards which could worsen their record and prevent them from leaving jail sooner than if they were given proper treatment, which makes it even harder for schizophrenics to get jobs after eventually leaving the prison. Prison is meant to make individuals better not worse, but in the case of the mentally ill, it is only going to make them much, much worse.

In conclusion, people with schizophrenia end up in criminal activity because of stigmas associated with schizophrenia, not feeling comfortable talking to others often leads self-medication attempts, expensive treatment they cannot afford, a lack of mental health training given to police, and because prisons are being used as fill-in mental wards. It is not that schizophrenics cannot get better, do not want help, and do not want to live normal lives, it is society that wants to blame victims and not educate the public to better help victims of mental illness such as schizophrenics. If schizophrenics are unable to afford treatment because they cannot hold down a job or get a job that pays enough to cover the costs, it is incredibly difficult for schizophrenics not to get into drugs or other attempts at self-medicating which is illegal activity. Society much address the public and better educate it to make changes, especially to police and prisons. It is critical that police officers get proper training so that they know how to deal with mentally ill people in a safe, effective manner to help prevent death and prison time. Additionally, there must be change to our prison systems if we are going to continue to use them as substitute asylums by giving the mentally ill proper treatment, prescription drugs, and a proper environment. If not, the mentally ill, such as schizophrenics, will only continue to struggle and end up in criminal activity.

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