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A Study on Schizophrenia

By S. Sree Vidhya

Highlights

  • What is schizophrenia and how is it portrayed in modern day media?

  • What causes it?

  • Methods of treatment

Introduction







So much weight this singular word contains. Crazy. A word that can end up being a

blazing red brand on your forehead, or a smear of black on your spotless record. Even with today’s rapidly spreading awareness about mental illnesses and how important normalizing them is, schizophrenia is one of the disorders that are still looked at with the crimson tinted glasses of fear and apprehension. And just like that, with a singular whispered word, crazy, comes a slew of others raining down on the innocent like spears. Unstable. Scary. Possessed. Dangerous.


Monsters made out of men


It’s very easy to take advantage and creative liberty when it comes to this ‘mysterious’ disease. How could they not? Writers, directors and other artists could have a field day with all the half-baked information about schizophrenia that floats around: a disease that’s characterized by vivid hallucinations, a picture perfect definition of someone insane, essentially, a psychopath. In an alarming number of movies, villains and serial killers are shown to have schizophrenia and even that portrayal of the disease is often inaccurate at best and awfully damaging at worst. But let’s look at the plain and simple truth: Schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. It’s nothing to be glorified or taken advantage of. It’s a serious illness that requires treatment and long-time care. Schizophrenia results in various behavioral and psychological symptoms that can be classified as positive, negative and psychomotor. Positive symptoms are the ones that are always so gleefully highlighted and exploited in our media for entertainment purposes. They are "pathological excesses" or "bizarre additions "to a person’s behavior. Examples include delusions, visual and auditory hallucinations, disorganized thinking and speech. Negative symptoms are ‘pathological deficits’ and include poverty of speech, social withdrawal, blunted and flat effect. In reality, these considerably less flashy symptoms are more commonly seen in patients with Schizophrenia. The last type of symptoms displayed are psychomotor. These include actions such as spontaneous or odd movements, gestures and in extreme forms, catatonia.


Known Triggers that Elevate Violent Behavior


Just like cancer and diabetes, schizophrenia is a real illness with a biological basis. While no one’s certain on why exactly a person is affected by schizophrenia, researchers have uncovered a number of things that appear to make someone more likely to get schizophrenia, including but not limited to genetics (heredity), faulty brain chemistry and circuits, brain abnormality, and environment. Things like viral infections, exposure to toxins like marijuana, or highly stressful situations may trigger schizophrenia in people whose genes make them more likely to get the disorder. Schizophrenia more often surfaces when the body is having hormonal and physical changes, like those that happen during the teen and young adult years. Again, all of the above scenarios are purely based on heightened likelihood of getting schizophrenia, not a confirmation. Various movies and works of fiction often show schizophrenia as a result of some traumatic life event, but this is not true. Schizophrenia is not a disorder that can be triggered by trauma.


While it’s popularly believed that people with schizophrenia tend to be dangerous to

people around them and are prone to lash out, this is not true. They usually experience

social withdrawal and show watered down versions of emotions, or none at all.

Common causes of harmful behavior exhibited by mentally ill people include:

  • A result of their psychosis and the fear that they’re being threatened in some way by their surroundings. (Psychosis is a type of mental illness in which a person can’t tell what’s real from what’s imagined.)

  • Drug or alcohol use can make it worse.

  • “Although one review of epidemiological studies found that people with schizophrenia were more violent than the general population, much of this violence appeared to be attributable to a small subgroup of people with co-morbid substance abuse and a history of violence. Indeed, people with serious mental illnesses were more likely to be the victims of violent acts than to be the perpetrators” says the research paper “Portrayals of Schizophrenia by Entertainment Media: A Content Analysis of Contemporary Movies,” released in 2012.

Treatment Options and a Hopeful Future

The media’s relentless misconception of this disease doesn’t end here: it extends to the level where it is almost shown that people with schizophrenia have only two options in life: become a disgraced genius, or a supervillain/serial killer. But that’s not the case. They too can have full and happy lives, if they are taking the right treatment throughout the course of their life. The treatment options for schizophrenics are vast and highly effective. Even though they don’t fully cure the illness, the harmful

symptoms can be easily dealt with by these following methods:

1. Individual therapy. Psychotherapy may help to normalize thought patterns. Also, learning to cope with stress and identify early warning signs of relapse can help people with schizophrenia manage their illness.

2. Social skills training. This focuses on improving communication and social interactions and improving the ability to participate in daily activities.

3. Family therapy. This provides support and education to families dealing with schizophrenia.

4. Vocational rehabilitation and supported employment. This focuses on helping people with schizophrenia prepare for, find and keep jobs.

5. Hospitalization. During crisis periods or times of severe symptoms, hospitalization may be necessary to ensure safety, proper nutrition, adequate sleep and basic hygiene.

6. Electroconvulsive therapy

7. Medication. First and second generation antipsychotics

8. Active research is happening to discover find more ways to effectively deal with schizophrenia.


Conclusion


Let’s all say it together: people with schizophrenia have real lives, aspirations and emotions unrelated to their illness. A person’s mental illness is not their whole personality. And beneath all those layers of hurt, confusion and pain, they too, are humans. Just like everyone else. And they deserve to be treated with the same love and care you’ll show to a loved one who’s going through a physical illness. Remember to be kind, dear readers. Be kind. This world needs it.


References


Portrayals of Schizophrenia by Entertainment Media: A Content Analysis of Contemporary Movies

NCERT psychology textbook, class 12; 11th edition

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