Violence and Schizophrenia – Comments from Readers
Posted Jul 22 2008 8:22pm
I would like to thank all those who commented recently on my posts “Violence and Schizophrenia”. Often I find that the comments left by readers are more interesting and informative than the posts I have written! Some of the explanations of what it is like to suffer violent intrusive thoughts were too valuable to leave unread by the majority in the comments section.
“The thoughts are like movies you can't shut off... no matter how horrible it is I can't press stop… I'm forced to "watch" the whole thing until it is done.” - Minnesnowta
“I've struggled with these thoughts for a long, long time. I thought they made me a horrible person and I have done very silly things to try and erase them from my mind. I could not even write them down for fear that they would become more real.” – Anonymous
“They cause great distress, and I wonder why my head does this to me? I don’t like swatting wasps, let alone harming a person; it’s just not me at all.” - Slurry
I also sometimes receive comments which raise very interesting questions and points of view. No doubt these points of view will be shared by others, and so I would like to reply in full in a blog post. I have recently received the following comment from an Anonymous reader, regarding my posts on Violence and Schizophrenia.
“I have been reading your journal with interest and after some time have decided to post a reply to this thread.
On the topic of intrusive thoughts my guess is that we all have these and from time to time they can be elaborate, explicit and violent but a filter or whatever prevents us from taking these fantasies and enacting them in the real world. If this were not close to the mark I fail to understand the attraction that violent films and latterly computer games have for a large proportion of the population. In fact, children may re-enact what they have seen but as play rather than through real aggression.
I am reluctant to continue this post as I believe it will be unpopular with the non sufferers of schizophrenia and those with the illness who read this blog. However my opinion is as valid as anyone else’s and deserves to be considered.
A small percentage of people with serious mental illness are capable of the most appalling violence. I know of no way to differentiate those who will go on to kill and those who will not. I believe that by claiming that there are far worse dangers out there you are bordering on denial. There are many dangers out there, far more people are killed by the sane than the mentally ill but a percentage of schizophrenics will go on to kill.
Even a small percentage is significant, I personally know of no one who has been killed by a seriously mentally ill person. I have however been stabbed over a prolonged period by one and am lucky not to be one of the statistics I feel some would rather ignore.”
Anonymous, thank you for taking the time to respond to my posts “Violence and Schizophrenia”. Firstly I would like to say how sorry I am that you have been a victim of violence over a period of time. As you so rightly point out, your opinion deserves as much consideration as anyone else’s.
You begin your comments by stating: “On the topic of intrusive thoughts my guess is that we all have these and from time to time they can be elaborate, explicit and violent but a filter or whatever prevents us from taking these fantasies and enacting them in the real world.”
I personally don’t believe that I have ever experienced intrusive thoughts. In rage I have experienced very violent thoughts, but as I endeavoured to explain in my previous post on the subject, intrusive thoughts are unrelated to the person’s emotional state and additionally are “intrusive” – unwanted, unwelcome, distressing, and difficult to be distracted from. Far from being a fantasy, they are more like a waking nightmare for those who experience them, especially as they can be accompanied by visual hallucinations. See the comments above by those who have experienced them.
You continue: “If this were not close to the mark I fail to understand the attraction that violent films and latterly computer games have for a large proportion of the population.”
This is an interesting point. For Mr Man, the intrusive thoughts and hallucinations that he has endured means that there is rarely a violent scene in films that he finds more distressing than what he has already witnessed. However, this doesn’t mean that he finds violent films entertaining.
For most people who are entertained by such, I suspect that it is more than simply a case of desensitization. Over the years films have not only become increasingly violent, but the violence has been glorified by being acted out by the most popular actors delivering “cool” one liners. In addition, age restrictions have been reduced and the video games often allow the gamer to become the hero of the film. Violence then has become synonymous with many desired traits such as popularity, admiration, and sex appeal, to name but a few, and I feel it is this that has increased its popularity.
Like you, I fail to understand the attraction of such violent “entertainment”, but the result of which for many is an impaired conscience, which I believe you alluded to when you said “a filter or whatever prevents us from taking these fantasies and enacting them”. For some, the filter stops working. Despite suffering from intrusive thoughts, the conscience of a person with mental illness is no more likely to become impaired than anyone else’s. As Mr Ian, a psychiatric nurse for many years, said in the comments section:
“Most people with psychoses harm themselves before other people as they still maintain their moral reasoning that it is wrong to hurt others. Those that do harm others, only do so because they feel they are severely threatened, regard it as the best/only option for their dilemma, or they have a delusional belief that such behaviour is 'ok' (I once nursed a guy who stabbed a horse guardsman in the leg because [he believed] it was an act of mutual bonding and honour that the guardsman would have understood).”
You continue: “A small percentage of people with serious mental illness are capable of the most appalling violence.”
I agree, just as a percentage of those without mental illness are capable of equally appalling violence.
“I know of no way to differentiate those who will go on to kill and those who will not.”
Again, I agree, just as I have no way of knowing which of those without mental illness will go on to kill and which ones will not.
“I believe that by claiming that there are far worse dangers out there you are bordering on denial.”
I never claimed that there were far worse dangers, only that a person has as much chance of being killed by a person without mental illness as with. What I do question is whether a person’s mental illness is truly the cause of their violent acts in all cases. In many cases I think it is used as an excuse; on the other hand, for those who clearly were affected by mental illness at the time of committing a violent crime, support was obviously lacking as there are always warning signs before hand. Consider this comment by Mr Ian:
“In regard the myth of the "snap" theory, I agree. It never comes unannounced. It frequently goes unnoticed or unattended though. I have worked with violent mentally disordered offenders for several years now. What you say is true and accurate from my perspective also; that the true cause of the violent act being purely in psychotic reasoning is pretty rare. Often it is increased in probability by prior personality, intellectual or environmental influences; or is more to do with those predisposing/predictive factors and not psychoses at all.”
You continue: “There are many dangers out there, far more people are killed by the sane than the mentally ill but a percentage of schizophrenics will go on to kill.
Even a small percentage is significant”
I agree that although the percentage of those killed by people with mental illness is small, those victims are not insignificant. However, I think it is unfair for the media to wrongly give the impression that these murders are more frequent than they actually are, or that everyone with a mental illness is violent. Rather than trying to ignore statistics, I am asking people to be balanced in their view of people with mental health problems.
I understand that your experience has not been a good one. You don’t say what your relationship is to the individual who has stabbed you, but I would recommend seeking outside help and advice from a GP or a Community Mental Health Team. If this person is persistently violent towards you he/she should either be arrested or detained in a secure unit under a section of the mental health act.
Thank you again for your comment, and to all who have commented on this subject.