Experts say you are more likely to be killed by a pub drunk than a schizophrenic

Professor Whitestick

Professor Whitestick - Credit: Archant

The tragic death of arts expert Dr Douglas Hutchison has brought a historic debate to the forefront again.

One of the avatars used in the therapy

One of the avatars used in the therapy - Credit: Archant

German teenager Tim Sommer, who is schizophrenic, was detained in Broadmoor mental hospital indefinitely last week for the manslaughter of partially sighted Dr Hutchison, who blogged as Professor Whitestick, because the 18-year-old believed Dr Hutchison was the devil.

The link between mental health problems and violence has long been discredited. But the public perception surrounding conditions such as schizophrenia and psychosis is that people with these illnesses are more prone to violence.

When those with mental illness often only feature in the news when they have killed or lashed out at someone, it is little wonder.

In fact, only five per cent of homicides are committed by someone with a mental health problem, according to Time to Change, a campaign run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in a bid to end mental health discrimination.

Voluntary Action Camden, based in Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town, hosts training sessions in mental health first aid which teach people about mental illness in order to challenge ignorance and the stigma surrounding it.

Community development worker, Ann Wolfe, said: “People have a fear of mental illnesses because they don’t understand them.

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“In this recent case, there were failings on the side of Germany’s mental health system, because [Sommer] discharged himself from hospital.

“You are more likely to be killed by someone drunk outside a pub than by someone who suffers from mental illness, but the current public perception increases the stigma and makes people afraid to talk about it.”

The British Crime Survey reveals that nearly half of all violent crimes are believed to be committed under the influence of alcohol, along with 17 per cent of crimes allegedly carried out under the influence of drugs.

People suffering from a mental health problem are much more likely to harm themselves than others. Ninety per cent of people who commit suicide are suffering from some form of mental distress.

Treatment for schizophrenia has varied success.

Even with the most effective anti-psychotic drugs, around one in four people with schizophrenia continues to have hallucinations and hear voices.

But a newly devised therapy where patients can use avatars to create a physical and auditory representation of their hallucinations has so far yielded positive results.

The research project, undertaken by University College London (UCL), in Gower Street, Bloomsbury, is led by Dr Julian Leff, emeritus professor in mental health sciences at the university.

Patients choose an avatar and voice that looks and sounds most similar to their hallucination.

After a brief session to talk about what the hallucination has been telling the patient, Dr Leff then uses the avatar to talk to the patients in real-time about their hallucination.

Of 16 schizophrenic patients tested in a small pilot study, 13 said the frequency and intensity of the voices they regularly heard reduced after six therapy sessions, with three patients recording that their hallucinations disappeared altogether.

Although patients said their hallucinations were in the first few sessions telling them to harm others or themselves, by the end of the six sessions the voices had become “happy” and “friendly”.

Dr Leff said: “These patients hear voices which tell them to harm themselves or others. The therapy gives the patient control over those voices and it has succeeded tremendously.

“The number of suicidal thoughts in patients went down significantly, which is good because the rate of suicide in schizophrenic patients is very high.”