Violence and Schizophrenia: The Subject of ’60 Minutes’

60min The CBS television program “60 Minutes” aired a special report about the issue of recent tragic mass shootings as preventable tragedies and the failures of the US mental health system. The show interviewed experts Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., president of APA and chair of psychiatry at Columbia University, and E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute. In addition, individuals with schizophrenia and their relatives were also interviewed.

Salient points from this program were highlighted:

1) Schizophrenia is a brain illness.
2) Many receive inadequate treatment
3) Viable treatments are available

Dr Lieberman discussed imaging of brain changes in schizophrenia and described the symptoms which can include command auditory hallucinations that may be telling these individuals what to do and how this devastating illness affects perception and judgment. Drs Lieberman and Torrey emphasized that the vast majority of individuals with schizophrenia do not commit violence. Most suffer from this lifelong illness without adequate access to treatment in their communities. And what is even more tragic is that as a result of suboptimal treatment, many people with serious mental illness end up in jails and prisons.

Effective treatments are available for the symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions that individuals with schizophrenia experience, but access to such treatments is not always available. In some cases, because of their illness, they refuse treatment or won’t acknowledge their illness.  Some of these untreated individuals with schizophrenia may listen to their “voices” telling them to commit violence.