Critics of entertainment media have indicated that cinematic depictions of schizophrenia are stereotypic and characterized by misinformation about symptoms, causes, and treatment. The pervasiveness and nature of misinformation are difficult to ascertain because of the lack of empirically based studies of movies portraying schizophrenia. This study analyzed portrayals of schizophrenia in contemporary movies to ascertain prevalence of stereotypes and misinformation about schizophrenia.
English-language movies featuring at least one main character with schizophrenia that were released for showing in theaters between 1990 and 2010 were analyzed for depictions of schizophrenia. Two researchers independently rated each character with a checklist that assessed demographic characteristics, symptoms and stereotypes, causation, and treatment.
Forty-two characters from 41 movies were identified, a majority of whom were male and Caucasian. Most characters displayed positive symptoms of schizophrenia. Delusions were featured most frequently, followed by auditory and visual hallucinations. A majority of characters displayed violent behavior toward themselves or others, and nearly one-third of violent characters engaged in homicidal behavior. About one-fourth of characters committed suicide. Causation of schizophrenia was infrequently noted, although about one-fourth of movies implied that a traumatic life event was significant in causation. Of movies alluding to or showing treatment, psychotropic medications were most commonly portrayed.
The finding that misinformation and negative portrayals of schizophrenia in contemporary movies are common underscores the importance of determining how viewers interpret media messages and how these interpretations inform attitudes and beliefs both of the general public and of people with schizophrenia. (Psychiatric Services 63:655–659, 2012; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201100371)