Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rock On... the Schizophrenic Stereotype

Negative stereotypes are difficult to overcome, and those afflicted with schizophrenia struggle with this unnecessary label. Among others, schizophrenics are generally identified as dangerous and even violent. Prejudice of this nature persists because the public holds onto farfetched notions about this mental illness. Additionally, portrayals of schizophrenics in contemporary literature have a greater impact on the public at large than in psychological research literature. The only way to change this perception is to improve public competency towards this mental disorder and community health programs treating for schizophrenia. By addressing these faults and taking appropriate measures, the fear of schizophrenia will all but disappear.

When not much is truly known about a disorder, such as schizophrenia, unfounded judgments are taken to quickly categorize individuals with said disorder. The most commonly shared belief about people who develop schizophrenia is that they intentionally brought the disorder upon themselves. Another common misconception is that schizophrenics are inherently violent. However, this tends to be the exception to the rule. Case in point, the majority of studies show that the mentally ill, schizophrenics included, are no more violent than the general public (Lombardi 1). Still, this doesn’t deter irrational behavior about schizophrenics. Other stereotypical beliefs about schizophrenics are that they are “difficult to treat . . . unpredictable and unable to follow accepted social rules” (Angermeyer & Matschinger 1050). These general, shallow perceptions do not take into consideration other potential explanations, such as biological or cognitive factors. As such, normal individuals “do not empathize with the person affected” with schizophrenia because the stigma attached with that mental disorder is widespread (Parker 717).

The public’s perception of schizophrenics has also been skewed because mainstream art uses them as foils to contrast the sanity of regular folk. One notorious example in contemporary literature occurs during a scene of Pat Conroy’s Beach Music. The youngest brother of the novel’s protagonist, John Hardin McCall, suffers from schizophrenia and is tormented by the disorder. When John Hardin suddenly disappears with a rifle in his possession one day, another brother asks his father in an abhorred manner, “You lent a gun to a paranoid schizophrenic?” (Conroy 200). Deeply disturbed, the brothers rush out of the hospital, where they were visiting their sick mother, and find John Hardin atop a bridge, flailing the weapon and shouting obscenities at everyone and everything in the small town of Waterford, South Carolina. He manages to hold up traffic for miles, and the McCall brothers overhear a policeman getting orders to kill him, if necessary. However, they already know such tactics won’t work because “John Hardin had entered that untenable zone where the voices inside him and the buzzing confusion on the bridge made him obedient only to the authenticated world of his own interior” (200-201). To avoid total calamity, they’re permitted to speak to John Hardin and compromise. It isn’t until the four brothers strip naked and jump into the river below the bridge when John Hardin finally gives up the fight and is swiftly arrested by the local police. Such a vivid case acts as comic relief when taken into context. But even then, this instance only perpetuates the notion the schizophrenics are crazy and a threat to the rest of society.

Part of the problem with schizophrenia is that little is understood about it in the public eye. A formal definition of schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which those individuals “deteriorate into an isolated wilderness of unusual perceptions, odd thoughts, disturbed emotions, and motor abnormalities” (Comer 453). However, the public’s view of schizophrenia is not as scientific. If anything, schizophrenia is often misinterpreted for other mental disorders. For instance, one study found that 67% of respondents believe that “a split personality is the cause of schizophrenia” (Angermeyer & Matschinger 1055). Clearly, a newfound approach to schizophrenia must be implemented. For starters, greater efforts ought to be taken to make the public aware that schizophrenia is as serious of a mental disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder. In addition, various forms of psychotherapy ought to be championed as the most effective method of treating schizophrenia by building “trust and emotional bonding” (Comer 492). At that point, it is up to the public to adhere to these new views. Should they refuse and revert back to their own ill-conceived beliefs, the vicious circle will keep on spinning. Unless the public opinion matures, schizophrenia will never get the just attention it rightfully needs.

The main proponent needed to convey a less terrifying view of schizophrenia is to improve proper community care. Mental health facilities in a community setting have become widespread because they provide local care to its citizens suffering from a psychological disorder. Unfortunately, community programs for treating psychological disorders have not reached its true, effective potential. The main issue is that these organizations do not provide adequate care for people with severe mental issues (Comer 503). In a given year, anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of those who suffer from schizophrenia, along with other related mental disorders, do not get any treatment at all (Comer 502). This kind of injustice is unacceptable because it shows a significant percentage of afflicted individuals who are simply left to fend for themselves. To reverse this trend, a few steps need to be followed to bring change from the inside out. The greatest step to be taken is to establish more supervised therapy sessions. Too often, people with schizophrenia are given quick fixes and then tossed out of care as quickly as they came in. Next, different forms of therapy must get expanded roles, especially in the area of antipsychotic drugs. Since 85 percent of schizophrenics get better with medication, then perhaps they should stay on that course for a more extended period of time (Comer 490). Finally, several philanthropic programs need to be implemented to educate both consumers and professionals about the unfinished progress many schizophrenics suffer. If these steps are taken, then schizophrenia will become more acceptable in the forums of the psychologically-curious public and health care industry.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Angermeyer, Matthias C. & Herbert Matschinger. “The Stereotype of Schizophrenia and Its Impact on Discrimination against People with Schizophrenia: Results from a Representative Survey in Germany.” Schizophrenia Bulletin, Vol. 30 (4), 2004. Pp. 1049-1061. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.

[2] Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology: Seventh Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2010. Chapters 14-15.

[3] Conroy, Pat. Beach Music. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Print.

[4] Lombardi, Kate Stone. "A Safety Net for Schizophrenia." New York Times 30 Aug. 1998, Late Edition – Final: Pp. 1. NewsBank. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

[5] Parker, Catherine. “First Person Account: Landing a Mars Lander.” Schizophrenia Bulletin, Vol. 27 (4), 2001. Pp. 717-718. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

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