Will Schizophrenic Mother Harm Others?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My mom is schizophrenic. She refuses to take her meds. She hears voices and has conversations with them. She has been having fender benders in her car often and has alienated many of her friends. Years ago when she was first hospitalized and released, the Dr. asked me to come to out patient therapy sessions with her. In those sessions she talked about the things her voices told her to do. These were pretty scary and physically hurtful things and most often directed toward her grandchildren who were very young at time. Now she seems to have progressed even further into the disease and has great grandchildren who are very small. She lives with my brother as she is unable to live on her own now. We are all very concerned about her behavior and the anger she shows sometimes. Can the disease result in the harm of others. My mom was a gentle person but there is little to no sign of that person now.

A. People with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence but violent behavior among individuals with uncontrolled psychosis can and does happen. Until your mother agrees to treatment and is stable for at least six months, all interactions with her great-grandchildren should be supervised.

Schizophrenia is a thought disorder. Delusions and hallucinations trick the mind into believing things that are not real. Those symptoms make it difficult to know the difference between what is real and what is not. Individuals with schizophrenia who act out violently typically do so because their judgment is grossly impaired by the illness and not because they are naturally violent people.

Here’s an example. Let’s say Jane has untreated psychosis. She has no history of violence but each day her symptoms become worse. She becomes fixated on the idea that her neighbor Tom is poisoning her. She’s convinced that each night Tom sneaks into her home and injects her food with poison.

Imagine how frightened you would feel if you staunchly believed that you were being poisoned. Naturally, you’d want to protect yourself. In the Tom and Jane scenario, Jane’s malfunctioning mind concludes that protecting herself means striking back at Tom. She then gets a gun and shoots her innocent neighbor. In Jane’s view, her actions are necessary because she is defending herself against someone who is trying to kill her.

She believed that Tom was a deadly threat to her and she had to act to protect herself. In reality, Jane was delusional and Tom never poisoned her food but the untreated, diseased brain can’t make this distinction.

That’s an extreme example, simply an illustrative example, of how untreated psychosis can lead to violence. It’s demonstrative of how someone who is normally not dangerous might act in an aggressive manner. Medication could have easily decreased or eliminated Jane’s psychotic symptoms but in the absence of treatment, bad things can happen.

I’m sorry your mother’s not well. It’s well worth your effort to try to convince her to seek help. She might say no and not think that she needs help but you should try anyway. Do everything you can to convince her to seek treatment. Medication has the power to treat psychosis and prevent future episodes. For guidance about how to approach your mother, consider contacting the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group that works with family members who have loved ones with mental illnesses. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle
Mental Health & Criminal Justice Blog

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Jun 2013

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). Will Schizophrenic Mother Harm Others?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/06/12/will-schizophrenic-mother-harm-others/