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Why has Schizophrenia been lost in the rising mental health movement?

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Researcher & Writer: Sian O'Hanlon

Illustrator: Ashley ZHANG & Shail PATEL

“We all see, hear, and feel things when we’re dreaming. I’m just someone who cannot turn off my nightmares, even when I’m awake” - Cecilia McGough

With the mental health awareness movement, we see an increasingly supportive and accepting community of mental disorders. There is a beneficial change being made in social perceptions of these disorders, common advocacy and most importantly a community willing to adapt its fortified values and cultures to accommodate for these disorders. There are more and more conversations opening up about “addressing harmful stigma” as it pertains to mental illness. The issue here is that the movement excludes lesser known disorders, like Schizophrenia or Schizo-affective disorder. This exclusion almost worsens the stigma around it, and a question is raised surrounding why it has been excluded?

Schizophrenia is actually a syndrome, meaning there’s a long list of symptoms that different patients might experience. Most human symptoms of any illness are usually an extreme version of any physiological process, for example every human has an original body temperature which when increased can be diagnosed as a fever. In cases of Schizophrenia however, patients usually have cognitive symptoms that don’t feature a physiological counterpart. These are symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, disordered speech, and catatonic behaviour; none of which occur physiologically.

This factor is why it may be so difficult to accurately portray it in the media, and due to dramatisation, the portrayal we usually see is not grounded in reality. The affected character is usually one that acts deranged, insane and unable to control themselves, almost all of the time they will commit some kind of murder as a part of the plot. Although we have made many productive strides away from the condemnation and imprisonment of those with Schizophrenia, these strands of prejudice are still woven into our modern media. We’re still demonising the disorder, but in a more subtle manner. Filmmakers continue to focus on violence, traumatic events, and hallucinations when depicting characters with schizophrenia.

Many of these misconceptions are conceived and explored in the entertainment industry (movies, to be precise). A number of studies have been conducted studying negative stereotypes in movies. According to Hyler (1991), negative expressions of Schizophrenia are categorised into stereotypes:

  • murderous maniacs,

  • rebellious free spirits,

  • genius socialites,

  • overtly sexual seducers,

  • or narcissistic parasites.

Violence and genius may be a realistic depiction of schizophrenia, but they are often exaggerated in film (Beachum, 2010).

Arguments have been made about the real impacts of the media: how much could it really hinder public perception? Researchers have concluded that these misrepresentations or exaggerated symptoms of schizophrenia in movies can adversely affect public perception of the disorder (Hyler et al., 1991). , p. 1045). A 1983 study conducted by Domino found that students who had seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) had more negative attitudes toward people with schizophrenia than those who had not seen the film. A survey on attitudes about mental illness

was sent to 146 college students before the release of this movie. After the movie came out, they were given the questionnaire again, this time with 85 having seen it and 39 not. Once half of the subjects had viewed a television program intended to balance the movie's depiction of life in a mental institution, a third administration finally took place. Analysis revealed no change after seeing the TV documentary but significant unfavourable changes in attitude after watching the movie in four of the five areas examined. This perception did not diminish over time and did not change after viewing more positive depictions of the disease.

As diagnosed schizophrenic Dr. David Crepaz-Keay described, “If enough people treat you like a lost cause, then sooner or later you end up believing it”. There needs to be productivity in some sort of change, something that’ll shape modern media (and modern minds!) towards a more accurate portrayal of such a complex disorder.


DeMare, N. (2016, April). Exaggerations and stereotypes of schizophrenia in contemporary films. DocPlayer. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from

Living with Schizophrenia . (2021). YouTube. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from

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