by Nicole Beaver
It’s the season for free candy, horror movie binges, spooky skeletons, and what would Halloween be without the costumes–or the constant appearances of racist and sexist choices of outfits? Now don’t get me wrong, I love dressing up just as much as the next Halloween fanatic (I live for the aesthetic of black cats and bats), but this time of year is notorious for demonizing the mentally ill. I’m talking about the crazies and psychos. When I use these titles, I mean them in the most sarcastic sense. Since we’re in the season where “Crazed Axe Murderer” and “Psych Ward Patient” costumes are about as common as a Jack-O-Lantern, I figured it’s time to debunk the myths about Schizophrenia and Psychosis Disorders.
Let’s start off with Psychosis. What is it exactly? It is very different from Psychopathy. Psychosis is a specific type of mental illness that causes impairment on the recognition between delusion and external reality. It can be pseudo- (meaning that it’s not actually there), accompanying other mental illnesses such as Mood Disorders. There are normally three ways someone can develop this, and yes, substance abuse is one of them. However, I am focusing on the “organic” type of Psychosis, which means that those who have Psychosis develop it as a result of mental illness or brain tumours/cysts.
Psychosis Disorders include Bipolar Disorder, Psychotic Depression (a very rare thing), Delusional Disorder, and the primary focus of this article, Schizophrenia, and its cousin, Schizoaffective Disorder.
Schizophrenia can come on suddenly or develop gradually. There may be early warning signs such as social withdrawal or feeling suspicious, anxious, irritable, or depressed. Changes in concentration, memory, and thinking may occur as well as changes in appetite, energy levels, and patterns of sleep. Symptoms and duration can vary from person to person and may change over time. Those afflicted often suffer from delusions, both auditory and visual hallucinations, and paranoia. Schizoaffective Disorder is a little different. It includes a combination of Bipolar Disorder, which includes sudden periods of Mania (overabundant joy and energy) and then sudden periods of depression along with the aforementioned Schizophrenia symptoms.
I dated someone who suffered from this specific disorder for a year; this individual also had Dissociative Identity Disorder, and I personally watched them go through the motions. From what I saw and from whom I’ve talked to, nine times out of ten, symptoms are mild. Sometimes, due to stress, symptoms will flare up. Some things can be constant while others pop up at random times. I watched my partner suddenly look around because there was a floating white cat in the room: we named him Ghost. I tried to help them remember to eat because oftentimes, they just forgot. When the paranoia got bad, we’d just sit and talk.
My time with them came to an end for reasons unrelated to their disorder, but they taught me a lot about people who suffer from it. They taught me that people with Psychosis are more likely to hurt themselves than others. This has caused me to become very sensitive about suicide and suicidal thoughts. Sorry “Thirteen Reasons Why” fans, but that’s why I’m not on board with the show’s hype.
My former partner showed me that the media makes monsters of those who display the most bizarre and socially frightening characteristics. They seek out those who aren’t socially adept and make them seem like people who we should fear. A movie that came out earlier this year, Split, has caused a lot of controversy. I think that the movie is utter trash due to the demonization of the disorder, although they did admittedly get a few things right.
Those who have Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder are at a high risk for suicide and self-harming behaviours (including substance abuse and eating disorders). They are also more likely to be victims of police brutality due to their disorganized and often erratic behaviour. That doesn’t make them bad, though. Some choose to go on medication to help with their delusions and hallucinations. Others, including my ex, have developed impressive coping mechanisms and have learned to normalize what they see. While it is true that one person out of a few hundred with these disorders go off the deep end and may cause others harm, those are very extreme cases.
When dealing with someone who is having a psychotic episode, don’t say that there’s nothing there or that they’re crazy. I learned from my ex that these phrases bothered them because they knew nothing was there; it was just hard for them to make their mind come to terms with that reality.
When someone is dealing with an episode, ask how you can help. If they ask you to cover the TV or shut the blinds, do so. If they claim some food is poisonous, offer to eat it first to check and make sure if it is. If they see something, ask them about it and talk about why it may freak them out or distract them. Basically just don’t be a jerk about it. Be understanding and offer your support by humouring them.
In Criminal Minds, one of my favorite shows, character Spencer Reed’s mother has Schizophrenia. He made a very insightful statement regarding this disorder: “Just because someone suffers from the inability to organize their thoughts doesn’t mean they’d stab someone in the chest thirty times.” Just something to think about before you buy your ‘Mental Ward Patient’ costume.
In my next article, I’m going to cover two things. The first is how the horror movie Split demonizes those with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and the second is Emo Subculture: All Depression or a Misconception?