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My Review of 'Words on Bathroom Walls' as Someone With Schizophrenia

Before I even saw the movie “Words on Bathroom Walls,” I had two conflicting thoughts.

One was, “I love young adult coming-of-age movies.”

The other: “I hope this film doesn’t do more harm than good for the community of those of us with schizophrenia.”

The movie did not disappoint in regards to my first thought. I’m a sucker for the complications of the teenage years with a love story thrown in. The second thought about harming the community with schizophrenia? It didn’t prove to be a concern like I feared.

Adam, the main character, partially narrates the movie as a teenager talking to his psychiatrist. Adam has his onset of schizophrenia at school. According to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the onset of schizophrenia typically occurs between 16 to 30 years of age, and males tend to present the illness younger than their female counterparts.

As someone with schizophrenia, I liked how the movie made Adam a complex character with other interests and goals instead of focusing 100 percent on defining him by the diagnosis. I won’t give away too much by saying that not being defined by the illness is directly woven into the storyline.

I also appreciated that Adam’s self-esteem became battered by receiving a diagnosis of schizophrenia because, with the stigma and stereotypes that currently exist around the illness, a person often can feel shame, embarrassment and a sense of loss of who they were and their potential.

Adam experiences three prominent hallucinations that are both audio and visual. As far as I know, I have never had visual hallucinations, but 16% to 72% of people with a psychotic disorder have them. The development of Adam’s hallucinations struck me as authentic and accurate, though. When I hear voices, it is often three distinct voices with very different personalities, much like Adam’s hallucinations, only I don’t see the people behind the voices.

One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Adam was talking to his psychiatrist about the difference between kids with other conditions and kids with schizophrenia. He tells his psychiatrist that everyone wants to make sure kids with some illnesses get their last wish, but with kids with schizophrenia, people push them away, ending up with them living on the streets. It is a beautiful monologue, and it captures the isolation and lack of services and support many with the illness experience. It is a great public service announcement about an illness that is still wildly feared and misunderstood.

My other favorite part of “Words on Bathroom Walls” was the support and acceptance Adam received (not from everyone). People with schizophrenia often need a wide range of services to live their best possible life. I know, for example, there is no way I would be writing this review without the people in my life who had stayed strong when my world was crumbling, and symptoms were at their worst.

Adam struggles with taking his medication because of the effects, which is a common concern for most of us with schizophrenia. We try to find a balance between feeling numb, or overly tired, or a list of health problems weighed against the stability of a regular medication regime. Adam also has treatment-resistant schizophrenia (TRS). According to Nature Journal, 34% of people with schizophrenia have TRS. The persistence of symptoms characterizes it despite antipsychotic medication. That is why, in the movie, there is only a short period where Adam is symptom-free.

I’m giving “Words on Bathroom Walls” five stars or two thumbs up for managing to avoid stereotypes, creating a hopeful representation of schizophrenia and an excellent coming of age story.

You can find showtimes for “Words on Bathroom Walls” here.