Thursday, 15 August 2013

Psychosis and Violence: the media's influence

A guest blog from Lucy Daszkiewicz

So, I spend probably too much of my time talking about mental health.  After all since I'm doing an MSc in clinical psychology its good to be passionate about your area of interest.  The thing is, once people find out that I study psychology, I get the standard responses: 'Oh my God, are you analysing my thoughts?', or the classic 'Can you tell me if my friend/relative/child/colleague, etc. has a problem?'  Apparently being a student makes me a genius and ultimate oracle on these things. Among these gems of questions I get is one that causes  'So what do you think about the latest murder? Is he/she a psycho?'  This is always an interesting debate; however one thing that came out of this is that, alarmingly, even highly intelligent people come to the conclusion that people who have mental health problems are likely to be violent criminals.  I was quite shocked so I did some research into newspaper articles purely by searching for 'schizophrenia'.  Here are a few example quotes all taken this year and by no means exhaustive:

Nicola Edgington jailed for 37 years for killing grandmother in street knife attack - Judge brands schizophrenic Nicola Edgington a 'calculated' killer (London Evening Standard, 4th March, 2013)

Two sisters whose mother was beheaded by a man with paranoid schizophrenia in a supermarket on Tenerife have met his family in north Wales. (BBC, May 13 2013)

 A man who set fire to three men, two in a pub garden, has been detained under the Mental Health Act. (BBC, 15 April, 2013) 

Mum ... admitted her four-year-old daughter’s manslaughter at their Moss Side flat last year after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. (Manchester Evening News, 28th February, 2013)

All these headlines appeared in the top 5 articles relating to schizophrenia.  The sad thing in my opinion is that schizophrenia is a serious condition that affects around 1% of the population (Lieberman, Stroup & Perkins, 2012).  It is characterized by symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and struggle with building social relationships leading to them becoming socially isolated (Carr & McNulty, 2006).  In addition to this people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia are approximately 13 times more likely to die by suicide, with the greatest risk being after the recovery from the first psychotic episode (Lieberman et al, 2012).  

Gonza´lez-Torres et al. (2007) found that people who have schizophrenia face the stigma of being labelled dangerous in many aspects of their lives and may use social isolation as a way to defend themselves from this.  Hocking (2003) identified that as a result of stigma people with schizophrenia may struggle with employment and housing, and a key influence on peoples perception is the media's portrayal.  Unfortunately the reporting of schizophrenia is often misleading within the media and can be used in a metaphorical sense leading people to confuse the condition with other disorders such as multiple personality disorder (Clement & Foster, 2008). 

It is important to point out that different media  sources have different effects on peoples perception of mental health.  Clement and Foster (2008) found that tabloids and television have the effect of stigmatising  mental ill health more than broadsheet newspapers.  In addition the amount of television that people watch positively correlated with the level of negativity people felt towards those with mental health problems.  

In fact, research has pointed out that 95% of murders are committed by people without psychiatric problems, and in reality, people who have psychosis are more likely to hurt themselves than  other people (Ferriman, 2000).  In addition there is only a small increase in likelihood that people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia will commit a violent crime compared to the rest of the population (Fazel et al., 2009).  The variable that appears to make the most difference is whether the individual has a substance abuse problem (Fazel et al., 2009).  Duckworth et al., (2003) suggest that what we need is to educate through the means of media instead of demonising and misleading people, and that maybe by using terms such as schizophrenia correctly we can make it more socially acceptable so that people do not feel stigmatised and reluctant to seek help.

BBC News (2013). Leicester arsonist set fire to men in pub garden (published 15th April 2013). retrieved from 
BBC News (2013). Tenerife murder victim's daughters meet killer's family (published 13th May 2013). Retrieved from 
Clement, S., & Foster, N. (2008). Newspaper reporting on schizophrenia: a content analysis of five national newspapers at two time points. Schizophrenia research98(1), 178-183. Duckworth, K., Halpern, J. H., Schutt, R. K., & Gillespie, C. (2003). Use of schizophrenia as a metaphor in US newspapers. Psychiatric Services54(10), 1402-1404.
Fazel, S., Långström, N., Hjern, A., Grann, M., & Lichtenstein, P. (2009). Schizophrenia, substance abuse, and violent crime. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association301(19), 2016-2023. Ferriman, A. (2000). Press: The stigma of schizophrenia. BMJ: British Medical Journal320(7233), 522.
González-Torres, M. A., Oraa, R., Arístegui, M., Fernández-Rivas, A., & Guimon, J. (2007). Stigma and discrimination towards people with schizophrenia and their family members. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology42(1), 14-23. Hocking, B. (2003). Reducing mental illness stigma and discrimination-everybody's business. Medical Journal of Australia178(9), S47.
London Evening News (2013). Nicola Edgington jailed for 37 years for killing grandmother in street knife attack (published 4th March 2013). Retrieved from 
Manchester Evening News (2013). Report slams child services over girl death (28th February 2013). Retrieved from


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