In today’s day and age, the influence of family and friends or secondary groups like school, religious institutions and government are limited. The influence of mass media on the other hand is ever increasing as it is the inescapable and constant fixation of our lives.
In current times, media has become a part and parcel of daily living. The impact media has on the thinking, behaviour, and emotions of the general population is massive.
The result of this impact could lead to positive and negative aids in the construction and perpetuation of perceptions and learned behaviours.
It serves as a central source of information and also takes part in shaping them. Mental health is often misrepresented and is subject to creating a negative environment for individuals suffering from such illnesses.
Schizophrenia and Media Coverage
Media coverage on schizophrenia is the most stigmatized. It tends to be negative, describing schizophrenics’ as suffering from high risks of violence, failure, and unpredictable behaviour.
Such a perception of schizophrenics may cause a damaging impact on them and can often cause them to internalize a stigmatizing stereotype. Furthermore, this can hinder the public’s understanding of the mental illness.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5), Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic mental disorder characterized by disturbances in thought, perception, and behaviour. It involves a range of cognitive, behavioural, and emotional symptoms.
Mass Media’s Portrayal of Schizophrenia
Mass media often associates schizophrenia to split personality disorder, also called dissociative identity disorder. This is quite different from the actual diagnosis of schizophrenia as it is a thought disorder and does not involve multiple identities.
Few more myths in mass media are related to schizophrenia being only associated with people who see or hear voices. Most characters are shown to display positive symptoms of schizophrenia-like delusions followed by auditory and visual hallucinations.
But according to American Psychological Association (APA), schizophrenia is also characterized by negative symptoms like low motivation, difficulty forming social connections, and a flat, blunted affect etc. which is more commonly seen in the population.
Common trends in movies are the stereotypical depiction of a character with a serious mental illness as dangerous and violent.
In some movies, schizophrenics are characterized as geniuses or are often portrayed as having an extraordinary creative ability. But this association is largely a myth, given the fact that people suffering from this disorder have diminished cognitive abilities and find it difficult to sustain the focused attention necessary for creative achievement.
Another common trend in movies is to associate schizophrenics with being possessed by evil spirits. They are often depicted as having unusual experiences with unearthly phenomena and going through a series of paranormal activities.
Mass media often portrays a person suffering from schizophrenia as demonstrating perfectly normal behaviour one moment and changing into a different person the next. Thus, we see how such a portrayal is misleading as it links schizophrenia to dissociative identity disorder.
The Truth About Schizophreniania
Given the fact that mass media reach is global, the constant exposure to such misleading information can alter perception and sway the popular opinion of a large number of people. In fact, the media shapes our reality of ideas and understanding of various issues and events.
The frequently negative and inaccurate portrayal of mental health issues, in general, reinforce mistaken beliefs and myths about mental illness. Certain magazines and channels worsen it by exaggerating and sensationalizing unusual behaviours exhibited by the mentally ill for increasing TRPs.
It often does harm to society and contributes to stigma and discrimination associated with the mentally ill.
With appropriate treatment and medication, it is possible to live a life with schizophrenia. Many famous personalities like the Superbowl-winning football player, Lionel Aldridge and Nobel prize-winning mathematician, John Nash have all lived with schizophrenia.
There is hope for people suffering from this mental illness as after all these ordeals these famous personalities learned to thrive. What we as a society can do is prevent the stigma of the illness and debunk such misconceptions and stereotypes.