Last night I was binge watching old episodes of Blue Bloods. My husband and I have always enjoyed the cop show mostly because of its focus on family. I don’t think either one of us will see it the same way again after the writers created a man with schizophrenia who had killed a young girl’s family but became stable (and remorseful) in prison after taking medication.
I can’t tell you how many times a very similar character or killer is part of the story on Criminal Minds, and other detective/cop shows. Will Hollywood never tire of the killer with schizophrenia?
In every beginning writing class students are urged to avoid stereotypes because they make writers look lazy and ignorant. Apparently, writers for Hollywood haven’t received the Composition 101 memo, or they think writing in a killer with schizophrenia is just too appealing to the general public to leave it out. I doubt the latter; It’s simply bad writing done by people who refuse to spend ten minutes researching the statistics regarding people with schizophrenia and instead turn to an old and tired story.
I can’t help but think that if the same writers created a stereotypical character from another minority, there would be some outrage on the part of the public (at least I hope so). But with mental illness, and particularly schizophrenia, the outrage seems to be limited to a few blogs and occasionally one of the larger mental health non-profits will have their members write letters.
How would I like people with schizophrenia to be portrayed? Realistically of course and that requires talking to people who have the disease and asking about their symptoms. Do they hear voices? Do they hear voices continuously or only sometimes? Do they suffer from delusions? If they experience paranoia, how does it manifest in their everyday life? What other symptoms do they have, and how do they manage those symptoms?
I have encountered dozens of people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, and they can all answer the questions that I just listed. In the disability community there is a saying, “Nothing about us, without us,” and that is how I feel about schizophrenia. If people want to write about it, that is great, but hopefully, they will care enough to do some research to make sure their characters aren’t just the same old stereotypes that are written about frequently now and over the past few decades.
It would be admirable if a few writers would like to do some good, and find out what living with a severe mental illness is like and how difficult it can be without trying to live with the views that they have reinforced over and over again by making us out to be dangerous killers.
We can all agree the pen is a mighty instrument that can be used for the good of others or to harm others. I hope that someday soon in Hollywood, the writers of popular shows will decide to help eradicate stereotypes about schizophrenia rather than perpetuate them. I can only think of one story where the hero has schizophrenia, and it was a blockbuster. The movie is, “Beautiful Mind.”
The success of “Beautiful Mind” should be an indicator that the public is hungry for a different narrative where mental illness is concerned. And the old cliche that says, “there is nothing new under the sun” simply isn’t true especially regarding characters with schizophrenia.