Things not to say to someone with schizophrenia

Dr Jan Smith, a Trainee Psychologist, reviews the online BBC Three documentary.

This programme centres on numerous couples and dyads living with schizophrenia from various backgrounds and ethnicities, each discussing several clichés, such as a person with schizophrenia must be dangerous, weed-smoking and a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character. From the outset, encountering experiences from people from numerous backgrounds seemed to highlight diversity, depth and complexities across mental health experiences. The exclusive focus on views from people living with schizophrenia perhaps mirrored NHS and social reforms of prioritising service user involvement; illuminated person centred care; offered unique opportunities to overtly challenge stereotypes; and revealed several voices of seldom heard groups within a reputable televised BBC outlet.

Throughout the programme, I wondered whether the bright yellow backdrop with modern jazz music played throughout portrayed the vibrancy of life, altered attention spans and promoted the therapeutic value of colour and music. These characteristics of brightness with jazz music perhaps challenge typical stereotypical media impressions of mental health with darkness, threat, gloominess and silence. 

What this programme did particularly well was to demonstrate struggles and realities of living with schizophrenia. The group questioned the stereotypical historical view of straitjackets, institutions and perceptions of threat to others… we saw more humanistic preferences such as more community involvement, increased links with people and going to the pub. The numerous examples and metaphors used to describe experiences provided realistic, memorable, vibrant and insightful realities, rather than the arguably detached clinical descriptions of schizophrenia in diagnostic manuals.

I wondered whether this programme may have enabled the people on the programme to encounter enhanced wellbeing, empowerment and satisfaction by claiming ownership of experiences directly, without powerful influences of health care professionals potentially distorting, minimising or misinterpreting their experiences. I did wonder, though, whether a video presented on a BBC online channel perhaps hides experiences of people with mental health problems… you have to have the knowledge, capacity and resources to access digital online material. People living with schizophrenia are also viewed from a distance in a videoed medium, possibly a personification of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude. But thankfully the ending emphasised ‘we’re just like you’, and overall I think this programme portrayed a refreshing positive impression on mental health. I felt humbled by the participants' commitment, pride, strength and courage in being able to openly explain their experiences. Let's hope this inspires and motivates many others to do the same.  

- The 2017 revision of the British Psychological Society publication Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia is now available.

Watch the programme now.

Jan Smith is a trainee psychologist.

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber