The Cairns Post, 14th August 2003:
As if schizophrenia isn’t enough of a burden to those who have it, they also have to put up with the myths and misunderstandings that accompany it, and the discrimination that follows.
So, let’s try to get some of the facts about schizophrenia right.
Probably the most common myth is that schizophrenia means split personality. Comparisons to Jekyll and Hyde are commonplace, but utterly wrong.
In Latin schizophrenia means split mind. This refers to the split between perceiving the world in the way most of us do and perceiving it in other ways.
To illustrate, someone with schizophrenia may interpret everyday events as having significance beyond their intent.
In health, our jargon terms for these sorts of symptoms are delusional beliefs and/or ideas of reference.
In the film Angel Baby the main character sought special meaning from a game show. I have met plenty of people with schizophrenia and haven’t heard anything quite like that, but then I don’t have to make a living by entertaining people either.
I think what the movie-makers were doing was jazzing-up and stylising the experience of perceiving the everyday in another way.
Speaking of jazzing-up and stylising, A Beautiful Mind certainly did a good job with making paranoia look exciting (it’s not).
Perhaps because movies are visual, this film gave the impression the main character was experiencing his paranoia as a visual experience.
Some people with schizophrenia do have paranoid beliefs and delusions when they are unwell. Nobody I’ve met has described this visually, although quite a few have spoken about hearing things, usually voices,.
It seems these auditory hallucinations are an intrusive and exaggerated version of what all of us experience when we have those little conversations with ourselves throughout the day.
From what I’ve heard, most people’s idea of what a mental health ward looks and functions like comes straight out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Anyone who has been inside our local mental health unit at CBH will be able to tell you that it is a modern, light-filled place where there’s direct access to fresh air from just about every room.
In my opinion, the layout and design is the best of all the wards in the hospital.
Finally there’s the violence myth. Hollywood has created a perception that schizophrenia means danger.
I don’t associate violence with schizophrenia at all. I know that on occasions tragic things have happened, but this is rare.
I’ve met dozens of people with schizophrenia who would not hurt a fly.
I guess if you’re making movies you’re not interested in a story about an ordinary-looking person doing everyday stuff in a pretty average way, other than taking medications to control uninvited symptoms.
Back in 2003 a journalist from The Cairns Post invited me to submit this article for the My Say column (a daily feature presenting the views of a cross-section of the community). The article’s reference to man’s inhumanity to man is in the context of current events at the time – it was published during the second week of the war in Iraq.
As I was identified as an employee of a local hospital, at the time of publication the content of the article had to be approved by the hospital’s media department. The media department approved the article without changes to content.
In 2003 I used some phrases that I find a bit jarring now. I was tempted to correct it in this 2014 version, but decided it was more authentic to leave the original unaltered.
Anyway, I stumbled across the very-low-resolution JPG version of the article today and thought it might be worth reprising. Stigmatising representations of schizophrenia still pop-up in Hollywood, – this is a tiny, inadequate bit of counter-balance.
As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.
Paul McNamara, 26th October 2014
Short URL: meta4RN.com/movies
McNamara, Paul (2003). Movies, myths, mistakes. The Cairns Post, 14 Aug 2003, pg 13.