How is Schizophrenia and Its Struggles Depicted in Movies?

Negative portrayal of schizophrenia reinforces the stereotype that the disorder makes people dangerous criminals.

5 min read
Hindi Female

It is not split personality.

It is not multiple contrasting things all at once.

It is not a disheveled butcher or a violent serial killer.

It is certainly not a locked up sinister baddie waiting to go crazy at any moment.

But are you at fault for thinking ‘crazy’, ‘angry’, ‘violent’, ‘homicidal maniac’ when the word schizophrenia pops up? Or are the movies, the sitcoms and the skewed media portrayal with their lazy, inaccurate, illogical, highly melodramatic and unreal depiction of schizophrenia responsible for shaping your mindset?

There is such rare and limited chatter about mental health issues, that many argue any publicity is good publicity for awareness. But unless you majored in psychology or hang out with psychiatrist’s, your knowledge of mental illnesses is framed by newspaper headlines, films and serials.

So when Farhan Akhtar’s 2010 thriller Karthik Calling Karthik equated schizophrenia with split personality or Kangana Ranaut plays someone who is feared and demonised in Woh Lamhe, what does this spiced up, overly negative publicity do to the sufferers?

People With Schizophrenia Are Not Violent Criminals

Negative portrayal of schizophrenia  reinforces the stereotype that the disorder makes people dangerous criminals.
People with mental illnesses are far likely to be victims than perpetrators. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube/Woh Lamhe screen grab)

The biggest myth which films like Silence of the Lambs, Friday the 13th, perpetuate is that schizophrenia makes one a robber, a rapist or a murderer when it’s actually the opposite. Usually it’s the homeless people with mental illness who are robbed, raped and murdered.

Normal people like you and me get the disorder, they struggle with the confusion but the diagnosis doesn’t mean you become a violent criminal. Once the drugs kick in, with therapy and family support people can go back to regular jobs, have relationships and a regular life. They don’t show this in films.
Dr Nagpal, Psychiatrist

Someone who had a first-hand experience of this skewed representation of the disorder is 30-year-old Vidhi*, a software engineer by profession. She was fired from her company after her boss found out about the diagnosis. The company officially maintained the lay-off was performance oriented but Vidhi is convinced “it was open discrimination”.

People empathise with depression but schizophrenia is a wild monster! I felt pathetic after getting fired, like a total loser because till this point, the diagnosis wasn’t affecting my output at all. I didn’t take any extra sick leaves, I was managing myself well. And now I don’t know whether to reveal that I have this disorder in my next job or not. I don’t know if I can live through that level of shame once more.  
Vidhi*, Schizophrenia Patient

And if Vidhi was someone with severe schizophrenia or uncontrollable paranoia what this feeling of shame would do to her fragile psyche?

That’s the problem with the fictional depiction of schizophrenia. We don’t see people with schizophrenia getting better and doing well for themselves in the movies. Barring a couple of characters like Carrie Mathinson in Homeland, Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, schizophrenia or bipolar disorders are not humanised, it’s never shown that sufferers are normal people leading ordinary lives who are no threat to society.

Negative portrayal of schizophrenia  reinforces the stereotype that the disorder makes people dangerous criminals.
(Photo: Film poster/Silver Linings Playbook)

(*Name changed to protect identity)


Psychiatric Hospitals Are Not Horrible Places and People Are Not Chained Like in Salman's Tere Naam

Negative portrayal of schizophrenia  reinforces the stereotype that the disorder makes people dangerous criminals.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube/Tere Naam screen grab)

With all its shabby healthcare infrastructure, hospitals for the mentally ill might not be like five-star hotels but they are not bleak, dark places where patients are treated like jail inmates and tied with chains.

Hospitals don’t resemble prisons, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is not brutally, forcefully administered to bed ridden patients, an image perpetuated by Salman Khan’s Tere Naam. In fact doctors say, sweeping reforms have happened in mental care in the last two decades, ECT is now given under anesthesia and patients willingly get admitted in psych wards because these are fantastic places of healing.


Metaphorically Using 'Schizophrenic' Is a Sick Tool of Your Cheap Vocabulary

Negative portrayal of schizophrenia  reinforces the stereotype that the disorder makes people dangerous criminals.
Contrary to public perception, schizophrenia is not the same as having a split personality or a multiple personality. (Photo: iStock)

It’s a shitty metaphor.

When you call the stock market schizophrenic because it’s volatile or Kanye West’s track as a ‘schizophrenic monster’, you’re not being cool. You’re only spreading misinformation, stigmatising and obfuscating a grave mental illness which affects nearly 8 million Indians, mostly between the ages of 16 and 40 years, with symptoms of delusions and hallucinations.

Of course schizophrenia is not the only mental health problem thrown like an insult. I’m so OCD about my hygiene that I wash hands twice before eating. My ex is so bipolar! My baby sister is as annoying as ADD! Stop being psychotic, over a LBD.

Sick tools in your cheap vocabulary.

A study by the National Alliance of Mental Illness found that more than two-thirds of educated Americans think schizophrenia is ‘split personality’. Exactly what Farhan Akhtar’s Karthik Calling Karthik propagated.

People with schizophrenia have problems in differentiating between the real and the imaginary, they can have issues expressing normal emotions in social environments and since the disorder is on the spectrum, the severity varies from person to person. Not everyone experiences the same severity. Medication, therapy, family support and proper sleep are advocated for better management of the disorder. 

The wall of misconceptions around schizophrenia is so high that it suffocates those who suffer. The world is an awful place because of what schizophrenia is not.

For Chrissake, stop treating mental illness like a taboo.

Also Read: Alert, Parents: Depression Can Happen In Kids As Young As 5

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