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What Did the Movies Get Wrong About Schizophrenia


There is no shortage of movies that glamorize and misrepresent mental illness- and that’s especially true of mental health conditions like schizophrenia! Psychotic disorders are some of the most misunderstood mental illnesses and Hollywood is one of the chief culprits. So, in this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at schizophrenia to learn what’s true and what the movies misrepresented.

What is Schizophrenia?

When you think of schizophrenia, you typically think about people hearing voices and seeing things that aren’t there. Tragically, this condition has become the butt of innumerable jokes and been immortalized in horror movies as an easily vilified mental illness. “The voices made me do it” is a common slogan associated with psychotic killers in both real life and popular fiction. Many of the movies on this list perpetuate harmful stereotypes in a variety of ways by insinuating that schizophrenia makes people dangerous or by misrepresenting the type of therapy that is helpful for people with schizophrenia.

Films like Split (2016) complicate matters further because they insinuate that schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder are the same condition. Dissociative Identity Disorder (commonly abbreviated as DID) is a condition which causes someone’s identity to fracture and separate into multiple personalities that co-exist inside their mind. DID is also regularly vilified in the media and confused with schizophrenia, prompting many people to assume that hearing voices and having multiple personalities go hand in hand. So, as a result of these portrayals, many people assume that schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder are “scary” or “dangerous” conditions that make people violent.

But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth! So, let’s dive in and debunk some common myths about schizophrenia. In reality, schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that affects more than 1% of adults in America. Schizophrenia is characterized by visual and auditory delusions or hallucinations which cause people to have trouble separating reality from fantasy. People who struggle with schizophrenia may struggle to understand what is real and what is not and, as you can imagine, this can be very confusing and upsetting. Symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Hearing, seeing, or believing in something that others cannot see
  • Bizarre thinking
  • Unusual body positions
  • Unusual speech patterns that do not follow the conventions of typical speech
  • Feeling or smelling something that is not real to others
  • Believing something is real with evidence to prove this

These are just a few of the common hallmarks of schizophrenia. However, the presence of hallucinations does not mean that a person with schizophrenia is violent or dangerous. In fact, people who have schizophrenia are more likely to be withdrawn or isolated because the confusion they are experiencing is painful and upsetting. As we consider this fact, it’s important to reiterate that people with schizophrenia are people just like anybody else. Many people are more sensitive to mental illnesses such as anxiety because they understand that people with anxiety have feelings too. But because conditions like schizophrenia are stereotyped as “scary” and “dangerous,” the people who struggle with these illnesses are often dehumanized and ignored.

However, people with schizophrenia have normal human feelings just like anybody else. Their mental illness does not prevent them from having typical emotional experiences or understanding information. This means that people with schizophrenia are very aware of the stigma that surrounds their condition and this stigma can make their lives very difficult. Sadly, as a result of this, many people who struggle with schizophrenia isolate themselves from other people. In some cases, that’s because they feel unable to establish a firm grip on reality, so they feel that interacting with people is too frustrating or confusing to attempt. But many people who have schizophrenia also isolate themselves because they fear being judged, shamed, or stigmatized if they speak openly about their struggles.

How Can I Get Help For Schizophrenia?

If you or someone you love is struggling with any of the symptoms mentioned above, support and acceptance is crucial. Schizophrenia does not make a person scary or dangerous, but it can feel very scary to live with. So, if someone you love is struggling, they need to know that you’re there for them and willing to support them. You should also know that schizophrenia is not a death sentence. The symptoms sound scary but they don’t have to control your life! In fact, many people who have schizophrenia are able to live happy, healthy lives through a combination of therapy, medication, and support from loved ones.

Although there is no cure for schizophrenia at present, therapy can have a significant impact on schizophrenia symptoms and empower people to reclaim their quality of life. Contrary to the portrayals we see in the movies, you can’t just take a pill and be cured; recovery from schizophrenia is a personal and multilayered process. This restorative process can have a powerful impact on the lives of people who are struggling and it deserves more celebration than it gets in popular movies. So, if you or someone you love is battling schizophrenia, remember that it’s important to break down stereotypes and offer support.