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Ask Me, Not the Media, What It’s Like to Have Schizophrenia

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My name is Rebecca. I have paranoid schizophrenia. I am married. I have a home. And I have never been a danger to anyone but myself.

But the opinion that gets played out over and over in the media is that people with schizophrenia are dangerous. We are portrayed as crazed killers. The popular show “Criminal Minds” deals with the topic of people with schizophrenia, often casting them as murderers. And this isn’t uncommon. A 2012 study found in 41 movies released between 1990 and 2010 that featured a character who had schizophrenia, “most characters (with schizophrenia) engaged in dangerous or violent behaviors toward themselves or others, and nearly a third engaged in homicidal behavior.

It gets so tiring.

It is true that many people with schizophrenia are in jail, but that has to do more with a failed system of treatment than the fact that people with schizophrenia are dangerous.

I lived in the closet with the truth about my diagnosis for over 20 years. My husband and I created a bubble of isolation for ourselves that protected me from the harsh and cruel judgement of the people around us. I told my secret publicly less than four months ago, and there have been many supportive family and friends. But the people I have cherished the most through this process were the ones who dared to work up the courage to ask me, “What is it like to have schizophrenia?” More than the doctors, more than the media and more than the writers in Hollywood, I’m an expert. I live with the symptoms of a severe mental illness every day.

Despite what it looks like in the media, the risk of someone with schizophrenia being violent is small. The risk might go up if it’s paired with substance abuse problems. But sensationalism sells and people use it to benefit their ratings, while those of us who are hurt by the lack of hard facts go deeper and deeper into our own worlds, avoiding the terrible things society believes and says about us.   

Next time you see or hear the media try to make all people with schizophrenia look like wild and dangerous criminals, think about the woman you read about named Rebecca. She could be shopping for her groceries next to you in the supermarket. You’d never know about her diagnosis, but she trusted you enough to tell you. Try to handle that trust carefully. It’s not every day people give us the benefit of the doubt. 

Originally published: June 18, 2015
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