Cedar Rapids, Ia. – A newspaper lying in Steve Miller’s kitchen blared the latest front-page news about a person with schizophrenia. The big black headline announced: “Becker guilty.”
The paper showed a picture of a stone-faced Mark Becker, the 24-year-old Parkersburg man who was convicted last week of murder for shooting his former football coach, Ed Thomas. Iowans read about how Becker assassinated the coach, then screamed gibberish about Satan to the horrified high school students who saw the murder. The media reported how Becker’s defense lawyer tried in vain to blame the killing on the young man’s severe mental illness and the delusions it caused.
What the news stories didn’t provide, Miller said, was a complete picture of schizophrenia. It’s true that a few people with the mental disorder go out of control and commit horrible crimes, he said. But Miller and thousands of other Iowans who have schizophrenia live quiet, unremarkable lives. Few of them talk openly about their experiences, however, so the public learns about the disease only in extreme cases, such as Becker’s.
“Unfortunately, for people who aren’t close to mental illness, who don’t have it in their families, what they see in the headlines becomes their perception,” said Miller, 49.
Experts say about 1 percent of adults have schizophrenia, which would translate to roughly 22,000 Iowans. People with the disease are more likely to be meek and introverted than aggressive and dangerous, psychiatrists say. Studies have shown they’re much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of it.
But publicity about violent schizophrenia patients drives a cycle of silence and misunderstandings, experts say. Every time the public hears about the illness being linked to a gruesome crime, the stigma surrounding the disease gets stronger. That stigma makes everyday people with mental illnesses even more hesitant to speak openly about their less dramatic experiences……
Submitted by Darrell H