Slayings raise issues of mental illness, violence

    Several reports claim that a young man accused of killing his parents and twin brother in a Philadelphia suburb suffers from schizophrenia. Investigators have not verified this statement, but mental health experts are concerned about the media coverage.

    Friends of the McAndrew family have said that Joseph McAndrew Jr. has schizophrenia. Strange statements he made to police after his arrest seem to point in that direction.

    Temple University’s Mark Salzer, who researches severe mental illnesses, said the coverage might stir up age-old misconceptions.

    “The concern is that in people’s mind, in the audience, they are going to again link mental illness to violence, and the overwhelming majority of people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other serious disorders are not violent,” he said.

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    Salzer said misconceptions and stereotypes about mental illness contribute to stigma, which often keeps people from seeking treatment. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects perceptions of reality, and people who suffer from it might hear voices, hallucinate, or become paranoid.

    John McCafferty, a psychiatrist and medical director of the inpatient psychiatric unit at Albert Einstein Medical Center, said the treatment of schizophrenia poses specific challenges.

    “Part of the illness is also a lack of insight. So that, because this is a very serious illness, where a person is losing touch with reality, almost by definition (he) would not understand that there is a problem,” said McCafferty.

    A lot of times, family members end up taking charge, or have to commit a loved one into treatment. McCafferty added that if people stay on their medication, the illness can typically be managed in an outpatient setting.

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