Statement on Violence Associated with Schizophrenia

The following is based on current knowledge of schizophrenia and its treatment.

Schizophrenia is a neurological disorder which results from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Among other things, this imbalance causes paranoia, disorganized thinking, delusions and hallucinations including irrational beliefs and seeing things, or hearing voices, that are not real. These are known as psychotic symptoms.

If this chemical imbalance is treated by the use of appropriate anti-psychotic medications, counselling and support, significant reduction in these symptoms can be obtained. As well, paranoia lessens and improvement occurs in the individual’s thinking and ability to understand that the delusions and hallucinations are not real.

If, on the other hand, the individual is denied access to effective treatment, the paranoia, disordered thinking and the voices get worse. Often a ‘belief system” becomes firmly entrenched such as believing that a radio or television or other source is speaking, or giving direction, to them.

Approximately 40% of people with schizophrenia attempt suicide and 10% complete the act, apparently as a result of the voices or to escape the suffering caused by the voices and other symptoms. By far the majority of serious violent acts by persons with schizophrenia are directed toward themselves.

Only a small percentage of persons suffering from schizophrenia are prone to violence against others. However, where an individual is not receiving effective treatment, particularly over a prolonged period after developing the illness, acts of violence, including homicide can and do take place by persons with schizophrenia. These violent acts usually happen as a result of irrational beliefs or feeling threatened (paranoia) during which the voices, which seem absolutely real to the individual, play a direct or indirect role. Some of the individuals who are not receiving treatment will use alcohol or street drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” and it is believed that this contributes to a violent outcome.

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada advocates that all required changes be made, as a matter of urgency, to provincial mental health acts which would facilitate early treatment of individuals with schizophrenia so as to minimize the number of individuals not receiving treatment. This will significantly lessen the incidence of serious violence committed by persons with schizophrenia.

Such changes are required in view of the fact that, since the disease disorders their thinking, many people with schizophrenia, who are seriously ill, do not recognize their illness and will not consent to treatment. Currently some of these individuals will only receive treatment after committing a violent act against others or attempting suicide.

Approved by S.S.C. Board
November, 1997