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tyrantxseries's avatar

Why do people think if you have schizophrenia your a danger to them?

Asked by tyrantxseries (4719points) December 4th, 2008

I have been Diagnosed with Paranoid schizophrenia a year ago, I’ve lost three of my oldest friends because I told them(even though I’ve had this for years and just had a name put to it), and other people (i’ve known for along time)I’ve told avoid me like I suddenly grew 6 heads.
The facts: I have never been arrested, I have never been given a ticket for anything, I’ve never been homeless, I’ve never been in a mental institution,I am not a violent(before or now) I still work full time at my same job(50hrs/week)
nothing about me has changed except I now know what’s wrong.
yes on a bad day I can be a little strange(just like before) only now I have meds to help control that.
(auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking)
from Wikipedia “Individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are often the victims of violent crime—at least 14 times more often than they are perpetrators”

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19 Answers

LostInParadise's avatar

Did your friends see you when you were showing schizophrenic behavior? If they were able to tolerate that then I would think they would be relieved to know that you have been given a diagnosis along with medicines to deal with the situation.

I guess that people are terrified of dealing with people people who have a mental illness. It is time they realize that mental illness is not so different from other illnesses.

wundayatta's avatar

Surely you know this? Mental illness carries a huge stigma. The general public’s image is that people with mental illness are dangerous and are about to attack them. Hardly anyone knows that the mental health researchers estimate that one in five people has a mental illness. Everyone has either a friend or a relative who is mentally ill, and they don’t know it. If every person who was mentally ill came out, the stigma wouldn’t be able to persist.

But few are coming out. It’s safe to do online, because you can have anonymity. Anyone who wants to can know I’m bipolar here. But my family and my friends don’t know for exactly the reason tyrant describes: I don’t want to risk losing them.

Now, some people say that if you lose them, fuck ‘em. You’ll find others who are real friends. Maybe so. But I’m not there yet. I have few enough friends in the real world as it is. I don’t want to chase any away because of their prejudices about mental illness.

Like tyrant, I’m pretty much the same as I always was now that I have the right meds. Now I know a little bit about where my kooky ideas come from, and why I have had trouble making friends and feeling good about myself. Now I understand what makes me so awkward and fearful.

WIth luck, I’ll let all that old shit go, and start to feel better about myself. We’ll see. I dunno about shizophrenics, but us manic-depressives…. well, one number I’ve heard—I don’t know if it is believable—is that ten percent of us die because of this disorder. To me, that seems like an extraordinary mortality rate.

Normally people are sympathetic to those who are under a death threat. Not so if it’s mental illness, unfortunately. It’s built into the system. Health insurance companies don’t even think the mentally ill are human enough to be worth insuring properly. Pardon me if I sound bitter. I sound bitter because I am bitter.

tyrantxseries's avatar

I heard of it but I never in my wildest delusions would I I ever think that would have happeened, it still confuses the hell out of me.

wundayatta's avatar

Tell me about it! I’m only eleven months into this thing, and it still surprises me every day!

augustlan's avatar

I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this issue. It’s flat-out ridiculous for friends or family members to walk away from the same-old-you just because you’ve got a name to put on it! It may have to do with the name Schizophrenia being confused with Psycopath <The psychopath is defined by a psychological gratification in criminal, sexual, or aggressive impulses and the inability to learn from past mistakes. Individuals with this disorder gain satisfaction through their antisocial behavior and also lack a conscience.>

You also might need to examine the way you’re telling people. Are you just kind of blurting it out? If so, maybe a gentle lead up would be more effective. Something along the lines of explaining that you have not changed, but you now know why you do some of the things you do, or feel the way you feel. Then go on to tell them what you’ve learned about your condition, and maybe lastly tell them the name of the condition.

cak's avatar

My biological father (killed when I was young) was bipolar, my uncle, his older brother was bipolar and their father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. My sister is bipolar, with very severe paranoid episodes. I’ve seen friends drop like flies when they find out these things – my sister will tell people and never hear from them, again.

As someone that doesn’t have to deal with this, personally – well, I do, but not as someone diagnosed, it is difficult to watch this happen. You want (and I have been known to do this) yell out that it means my sister is slightly left of center…not a serial killer!

She refuses to hide in the shadows of bipolar and pretty much feels everyone is bipolar, just not diagnosed – she jokes it’s the current popular mental illness. I know she does this to protect herself and it hurts to watch this as it happens.

I hate to say don’t tell people, but like Augustlan just said, examine the way you are telling people. There are a lot of misconceptions about these things – tackle it one-by-one or in small group – the one on one, might lead to phone calls about you, without you around. Explain what it means and ask them if they have questions.

I have cancer and the sucky thing is, I lost friends. They were “scared of me and for me”. Anything that makes you really different, scares people. Your hurdle is higher than mine, but there are people out there that really will understand. It just might take some time.

Best of luck to you!

loser's avatar

I guess I’ve never really thought about this because I didn’t really realize that people thought that schizophrenics are dangerous. That’s truly sad and I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this. That’s just wrong.

chicadelplaya's avatar

My thought is that these people have a fear for the unknown, which is sad and pathetic in my opinion, if they are supposed to be your true friend. These longtime “friends” are avoiding you because of what you had the strength to express to them, and then they leave? I SAY GOOD RIDDANCE!!! Sweetie, there are plenty of wonderful people out there who will be more than happy to be your friend, no matter what your diagnosis is. I’m sorry you have been feeling a sense of loss, that is never easy. But you are going to be just fine. Better friendships await you! :-)

Judi's avatar

Mental illness still carries a stigma that is not fair or justified. You find out quickly who your real friends are. Might I suggest you attend a NAMI meeting and help us all bust the stigma associated with mental illness? My son is bi-polar and NAMI has been a great help to both him and us in dealing with the disease and with dealing with a community who judges by stereotypes. If we work together we can educate the world.

elchoopanebre's avatar

Probably because the only reference to schizophrenia that the average person has (including me until I took an abnormal psychology class) is the film “A Beautiful Mind.”

EmpressPixie's avatar

I agree with what the others have said—it’s probably because most people don’t really know what it means that their friend was diagnosed as schizophrenic. The only things they have to go on are pop culture references which, honestly, are usually inaccurate, the general stigma of mental illness, and a sort of fear of the unknown.

With luck, a few of them will look into what it means or talk to others or something and realize they are being jerks. Unfortunately, they may not. I agree with the others that a support group might help—both with the social aspects and give you a group of people who know what it is like to find different drug therapies or have strange reactions to various drugs or need to take a bag full of pills to feel “normal” or why it matters to be “a person with schizophrenia” and not “a schizophrenic”. Schizophrenia is hard. A support group might do a world of good.

You may wish to read The Quiet Room, a book about a woman with Schizophrenia who has a particularly difficult time managing her illness (much of her life happened before the drugs we have now that are more effective). While you don’t need to read the story, once you’ve read it you can (if you want) write a short letter about how your illness is different or the same and perhaps give it to your friends. In that letter, you can explain that it hurts that they are suddenly treating you differently when, at heart, nothing has changed other than you getting the help you need.

The nice thing about the Quiet Room as a book is that it shows one woman’s journey and reading it, you can get really caught up in her story and what happened to her. It’s not just the facts about schizophrenia, it gives it a strongly personal side without actually making it all about you and your friendships. So, in a way, personal but not too personal.

jackfright's avatar

because people are not comfortable with things that cannot be predicted and/or quantified.
in this case, you’re the unknown variable of the equation.

…in my opinion. if i were one of the friends that abandoned you, that would be the reason.

Jeruba's avatar

Unpredictable behavior in others can be really frightening. Not that we have to be able to anticipate people’s every move, but that their behavior has to fall within a certain range in order for us to feel comfortable and safe. We have a very firm, clear idea of what behavior is acceptable under various circumstances, and when someone acts outside that range, we feel threatened. For example, a stranger does not come up out of nowhere and place a hand on your face. We would not tolerate that; or we might in a church, but not on the subway. Whether we thought it had some kind of cultural meaning to them or not, whether the touch was gentle or not, we would feel alarmed.

When driving on the freeway, we expect and need people’s driving behavior to be reasonably predictable, and we perceive an erratic driver as potentially dangerous (either directly or indirectly). In much the same way, I think we react adversely when someone appears to be behaving outside the range that we regard as normal because it means that that person does not subscribe to our codes or norms. Just theorizing here, but I think it is a natural alarm that goes off, probably even at an unconscious and involuntary level. Those commonly held codes or norms allow us to move about in the world with some sense of safety because they constrain behavior and thus serve the common welfare.

Just as with a strange dog or a wild animal, we also do not know how to assure perceived nonsubscribers that we mean them no harm, and we don’t know what they might do if they think we are a danger to them.

What’s more, someone who does not subscribe to the code is a threat to the code itself because it means that the code can be flouted or dispensed with, and that weakens the hold of the code over those who conform to it. Much bigger threat here than simple violation.

The range of acceptable behavior is in part culturally defined, which is one reason why people are naturally suspicious of foreigners. And in a multicultural society, there can be a lot of confusion and insecurity in knowing that people in your community don’t recognize your rules and that you don’t know what some of their actions and behaviors mean—you don’t know their code. Same with any subculture, and same with people who are intoxicated, and same with people who behave abnormally for mental or physical reasons. The code that protects people, the unwritten social bargain, is not being observed, and so you don’t know how they are going to behave, you don’t know how you should behave, and you don’t know if you are in danger.

This is what I think is going on. In a civilized and cosmopolitan world, many or most people get far enough past those rather primal fears and reactions to be able to meet and interact with others who are very different from themselves in all kinds of ways. We learn at least a little bit about one anothers’ customs and practices, meaningful gestures, social signals, etc., even though many of us continue to be puzzled by those things with respect to cultures that are radically unlike our own. But those strong instinctual fears of people who are not of one’s own tribe can still crop up, sometimes unexpectedly and with a vengeance.

And when it comes to people whose behavior is different not because they come from another culture or social environment but because their mental state is outside the normal range, we have no assurance that they subscribe to any rules or limits or codes at all except whatever their internal state might dictate.

I have thought a lot about the tendency to fear difference and to fear the one who doesn’t subscribe to the code because I have often been perceived as the nonsubscriber. My answer to the question is not the result of training or scholarly analysis. I am just sharing my own perception here, and my intent is to do it in a descriptive and nonjudgmental way.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

many mental disorders have bad connotations just because they aren’t understood at all. it’s a shame that a lot of people think differently of someone just because something their behaviour or something has a title, but i guess it’s human nature to fear something they don’t know about. which isn’t an excuse, that’s horrible /=

wundayatta's avatar

That’s why I can be public about it when I’m anonymous, but I don’t tell my employer, my family, or my college friends about it. Only my flaky artistic friends know, but then, most of them think they’re bipolar, too.

Macaulay's avatar

They’re disturbed because “What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
Catch my drift?
I’ve been diagnosed with Obsessive–compulsive disorder, Generalized anxiety disorder, Bipolar I disorder, Borderline personality disorder, and a few others that I don’t even feel like mentioning.
Point being, I know it’s hard, but focus on YOUR self-improvement.
In the grand scheme of things, you’ll be on top.

Claudio's avatar

I had really hoped that the stigma towards mental illness had been turning around. It sounds like a cheap and easy thing to say but maybe you can only change people’s minds one person at a time. You know? It’s hard.

avvooooooo's avatar

The public perception of schizophrenia has been tainted by popular culture and popular depictions of schizophrenics on shows like Law and Order and other shows where they’re shown as nuts, unpredictable, and a host of other unflattering and stereotypical ways. People get scared because they don’t really know what the disease is and what it consists of for you. For some people, its more “the devil is telling me to kill you” and for others its way, way more benign. I think that because the first is heard of more, with the woman that recently killed and ate parts of her baby, for instance, than the other where people might see butterflies floating about or what have you, people tend to “err on the side of caution” or however they might put it. It starts with a lack of understanding and a healthy dose of fear of the unknown. If you’ve able to tell people what you’re dealing with, if medication is controlling it, and other things to reassure them then it doesn’t seem so remote and scary and becomes one of those odd-ish things that someone they know does/has. Like how this one kid in second grade licked windows and is now a rocket scientist. You don’t forget that he licked windows, but its just a part of him that’s there and accepted. ;)

kevinqwerty's avatar

Me too ! When I told people about my illness they treated me like I had two heads. I hear things from the TV sometimes. Radio too. But not for two years. I don’t take meds cos they make me worse. I stopped drinking and smoking hash. I’ve slowed my life down and spend time walking in the country. I call it the “simple green cure” I try to live like how we all should live. The rat race brings on my paranoid delusions. Its never been a problem to others. When it used to happen I’d lock the door. Close the curtains and ignore the phone for a few days until it passed and i felt able to venture out doors. No one knew about it. Then I told people thinking they would stop worrying about me. Mistake. They now worry about me lots. Like will I do something bad. to me. To them. To anyone. Its like they are causing me angsiety which in turn leads to me being paranoid. A self forfilling situation in many ways. Its now gone to far to repair the situation. Think I’ll move on again and start again.. Any offers of help. Accommodation and work and I’ll consider them. 56 none drinking artist in to country walks and his own company. Remote locations is what I need. Country cottage where I can chop logs and use my pastels and paints..a crofters cottage. Just me. No Luxury’s wanted. Anything anywhere. . please…

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