*This is adapted from an essay I wrote in my final year of university on the ethics of media representation of minorities*
I want you to sit for, let’s say twenty seconds, before you read the rest of this post, and think of what you think a schizophrenic looks like. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.
If you and those close to you have never experienced schizophrenia, then you’ll probably find that the image you have in your head is quite different from mine. There’s a fair chance that you’ll see something like this:
This is the seventh top image on google images. I don’t know if you’ve seen The Shining, (if you haven’t, do it, it’s a great film), but I don’t recall Jack being stated to be schizophrenic at any point in the film. In fact, I seem to remember that there was a lot of ancient curses, ghosts and demons instead. Therein lies the problem with the public perception of schizophrenia: we are, apparently, monsters.
The 2000 Jim Carrey film, Me, Myself and Irene, typifies this trend; the main character is stated to have “Advanced Delusionary Schizophrenia with Involuntary Narcissistic Rage”1 (I’m not going to touch on the myriad of things wrong with this here, as it deserves a separate post on its own). From his first indication of any kind of illness, it takes Carrey’s character less than one minute and forty five seconds to go from queueing in a supermarket to driving a car into a crowded barbershop, sexually assaulting a woman, and attempting to drown a child. The tagline of the film is “From Gentle to Mental”. This is in a film that was released with a 15 age rating, marketed at the age group at which the audience is most vulnerable to the development of psychosis.
You might reasonably say: “This was 17 years ago, a lot has changed since then.”
The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds, was released in 2014, and followed a man who suffered from delusions and hallucinations going off his medication and murdering three woman, one whose decomposing head he keeps in his freezer throughout the film. It is touted as a black comedy, with the tag line ‘Hearing Voices can be Murder’. It holds a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing2.
Aside from anything else I want to achieve by typing these words, I’m just fucking sick of hearing and reading things that expect me to be the monster of someone else’s story. Yes, I hear voices and have visions of fire and blood and violence, but I am not going to attack a random person in the street, or abduct people to torture and behead them! Schizophrenia in my opinion, (which I admit may be slightly biased), seems to have a special place of misinformation and vilification in the media, as even the word now conjures images of murderers, slashers and serial killers.
If you asked the average person: “Would you sit next to someone who was clinically depressed on the bus?”, I’m sure most people would say yes, holding a position of sympathy for the poor sufferer. Sufferers of illnesses like depression are seen in the public consciousness as weak, despite actually being the strongest among us.
Now ask the other question: “Would you sit next to a paranoid schizophrenic on the bus?”
We are feared, because we embody every axe murderer and predatory killer the average person sees in the cinema and on TV.
15% of all murders in England and Wales between 2001 and 2011 were committed by people who were currently patients under mental health services for any kind of illness3,4.
By contrast, a person with serious mental illness has a 1 in 4 chance of suffering violence as a direct result of their condition in any given year5, most commonly at the hands of a partner, carer or family member. 14 times more likely than the average person6.They also have a 5% lifetime incidence rate of successfully committing suicide7.
In short, both you and I are much more likely to hurt me than I am to hurt you.
And yet, [this] program was aired by the BBC this week in their show Panorama. Suddenly I’m a Frankenstein’s Monster style killer, my brain addled by the evil drugs that pharmaceutical companies are shoving down my throat.
Unless you have experienced it, you cannot possibly know the fear of losing your mind, your contact with reality. You can’t know what it’s like to hear abusive voices trying to convince you to kill yourself because you are a danger to others. You don’t know what it’s like to feel yourself being crucified as you lie in bed next to the bloodied corpse of your ex-girlfriend who you know can’t really be there.
So stop telling me not to take my meds because YOU are scared they might turn me into a monster.
I’m sick of being someone else’s monster.
And I’m damn sure not going to be someone else’s victim.