Media and cinema productions have made it seem as if individuals who suffer from a mental health disorder are dangerous. All forms of media -including television, films, magazines, newspapers, and social media- have been criticized for disturbing negative stereotypes and inaccurate descriptions of those with mental illness. For example, the movie Split tells the story of a man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and his character is portrayed as a monster or dangerous. Unfortunately, this is very common amongst films, the characters are portrayed as overly hysterical, unpredictable, and dangerous. However, that is far from the truth, in fact, many individuals who suffer from a mental health disorder are more likely to be a victim rather than a perpetrator- of violence. The general population should not be sacred when interacting with someone who is mentally ill. Perhaps, the same individual might be scared of themselves because they have little control of their behavior. Instead of being judgmental and believing stereotypes, the general population should be more open-minded and learn reliable information that is not from the media.
Oftentimes, movies stereotype individuals with schizophrenia as being violent and unpredictable. However, the risk of violence is small, but suicide risk is higher than average (DeMare 2016). According to the American Psychiatric Association (2020), schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that interferes with normal brain activity. When the disorder is active, symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, trouble with thinking, and lack of motivation (American Psychiatric Association, 2020). Furthermore, Schizophrenic individuals may experience episodes in which they are unable to distinguish between real and unreal experiences. Symptoms usually first appear in early adulthood and can equally affect both men and women. As an individual gets older their symptoms can often decrease (American Psychiatric Association, 2020). Treatment can improve symptoms and the likelihood of a recurrence can be diminished. Therapy, psychosocial support groups, and medications can manage the illness and improve an individual’s life.
The representation of mental disorders in contemporary films has been scrutinized by critics for years- especially those films that deal with schizophrenic individuals. Movies are designed to entertain the audience, but individuals with schizophrenia are affected by these distributing films. In films, schizophrenic characters are referred to as “crazy” or “sane” characters- reinforcing the stigma. Filmmakers typically like to exaggerate symptoms and give a negative representation. Also, they tend to focus on violence, traumatic events, and hallucinations when depicting and shaping characters with schizophrenia. According to DeMare (2016), wrongly portraying or exaggerating symptoms of schizophrenia in films can negatively affect the public’s view of the disease. In fact, the general population has claimed violence and unpredictability are the most pressing concerns when it comes to individuals with schizophrenia (DeMare, 2016). This can only be explained by films exaggerating the frequency of violent actions committed by schizophrenic characters. In reality, most individuals suffering from schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent. However, individuals who are not following their doctor’s orders and not taking their medication, are more likely to cause harm to themselves.
Violence is one of the common and most enduring myths around schizophrenia people. In the public’s opinion, individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia are associated with violence than any other type of mental health disorder. However, there is no evidence to support this myth. According to DeMare (2016), schizophrenic individuals are more at risk of dangerous behavior, but it is comparatively rare. Most individuals do not display violence or any other dangerous behavior. However, some schizophrenic individuals may become violent when suffering from acute psychosis (DeMare, 2016). When suffering from a psychosis an individual may experience delusions and hallucinations affecting their ability to think. In some cases, when an individual acts out violently, the delusions are usually influenced by dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, it is more common for people with schizophrenia to harm themselves rather than other people.
People with schizophrenia should not feel any less when compared to the general population. They are humans beings too trying to live a “normal” life. For the stigma to decrease, films or any sort of media must stop exaggerating schizophrenia symptoms. They should not portray schizophrenic individuals as violent or dangerous. Instead, they must bring awareness and talk about the real issue which is high suicide rates. It is more common for a schizophrenia individual to harm themselves rather than another person. As a society, we must stop being judgmental and instead be more open-minded.
American Psychiatric Association. (2020). What is Schizophrenia?. DeMare, N. (2016).
Exaggeration and Stereotypes of Schizophrenia in Contemporary Films. Inquiries Journal.
About the Author:
Jennifer Rosales is an undergraduate intern from Fisher College in Boston, MA.
South Shore Child and Family Counseling is a private group psychotherapy practice consisting of a team of experienced clinicians. We are committed to the physical, mental, and social well-being of the residents of Braintree and the surrounding area. Our team of talented and compassionate clinicians will work with you to help you overcome life’s most challenging situations and celebrate your accomplishments.
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