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The stigma of schizophrenia

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 19 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:522
  1. Annabel Ferriman, news editor
  1. BMJ

    When four psychiatrists published a study showing that six out of 23 schizophrenic patients carried weapons during psychotic episodes, little did they realise how their work would be presented to the public. The day after it appeared in the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Bulletin in 1998, banner headlines in the Sunday Express proclaimed: “Armed and dangerous: public at risk as mental patients escape the care net.” The Sunday Express journalist extrapolated that 1250 mentally ill patients in the community carried weapons and posed “a serious threat to public safety.” This claim was based on a figure quoted by the Zito Trust that 5000 schizophrenic patients in the community represented a danger to themselves or others.

    Distortions of this kind are no surprise to mental health groups. Focus on Mental Health, an umbrella organisation, thinks that mentally ill people get a raw deal from the press, with words such as “maniac,” “schizo,” and “psycho” contributing to the stigma. Consequently, a year ago, it joined with the National Union of Journalists, the Department of Health, and Lilly Psychiatry to set up the Media Forum on …

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