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Study: Movies Misinform Viewers About Schezophrenia Symptoms, Treatments

Update Date: Jul 15, 2012 09:31 AM EDT

There are plenty of movies around the world which have made attempts on exploring and depicting the world of schizophrenic patients. An alternative reality, away from the conventional reality has interested film makers from quite some time now. However, a study says that the viewer might want to think before believing everything that is displayed on the big screen.

According to a latest study, movies often stereotype people with schizophrenia as being violent and unpredictable and also misinform viewers about symptoms, causes and treatment of this mental disorder.

For the research, Patricia Owen of the psychology department at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas, reviewed 41 English-language films released between 1990 and 2010 that featured at least one main character with schizophrenia, according to a report in Health Day.

The study results revealed that 83 per cent of characters in those movies were portrayed as violent and harmful to themselves or others. Also, one-third of them displayed homicidal behavior, while one-quarter of them committed suicide.

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health determines that though the average risk of suicide is higher in schizophrenic patients, the chances of them being violent is rare.

According to the author of the study, most characters displayed delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, and disorganized speech or thought. However, the more common symptoms of schizophrenia such as lack of speech and motivation were seldom shown in the movies.

Another phenomenon noted by the author was that although the chances of contracting the disorder are equal for both men and women, 80 per cent of the characters with schizophrenia in movies are males.

Characterizations of schizophrenia rightly portrayed by the movies included a low socioeconomic status of the character, which is at par with the data on the illness. Also, almost half of the movies depicted the use of medication to treat the disorder, and treatment such as Psychotherapy was not portrayed often.

Owen suggested further studies and research to determine how portrayal of schizophrenia in movies affects the general perception of the public about the disorder, and also to increase understanding and empathy of the people towards the disorder.

The study was published in the July issue of Psychiatric Services.

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