At least, that’s what the media will have you think. Many movies portray mental illness. I understand why—mental illness is different, and we don’t completely understand it yet, so it is interesting to explore it through movies. Movie makers often take the viewer to the extremes in order to illicit bigger reactions. Unfortunately, these movies often depict a rather unrealistic image of mental illness—consider this list.
Why does the media depict schizophrenia so negatively? In the movie The Voices the main character murders three people because he doesn’t take his medication. There are some criminal cases in which individuals that have schizophrenia are the perpetrators, but the vast majority of schizophrenics are not violent—more often they are withdrawn and introverted.
We still don’t know why schizophrenia occurs, or how to cure it. It is thought that schizophrenia occurs because one signaling method in the brain, called the Wnt pathway, is somehow inhibited. Without the Wnt pathway, an activator for brain developmental and growth (β-catenin) continually gets destroyed and never gets the chance to initiate proliferation.
Why not just use a pharmaceutical drug that always keep the Wnt pathway on? Well, this would then signal for different areas to keep growing without control… sound like a familiar problem? It sounds like tumor growth to me, which could lead to cancer. So more targeted drugs are needed to solve this problem.
You might ask then why some people have this uncontrollable Wnt signaling. Scientists don’t know yet, but there is a strong connection to genetics, mutations within cells, and external factors. It has been shown that having a family history increases the likelihood of having schizophrenia—two genes in particular, DISC1 and Akt can affect Wnt signaling. There are also cases in which different types of mutations within genes can lead to schizophrenia without a family history. External factors in the womb like prenatal infections and stressful events like famine, flood, or loss can even increase the risk of getting schizophrenia. It is most likely a combination of these factors that lead to schizophrenia.
Current drugs can help to regulate some of the positive symptoms (symptoms that increase behavior, like hallucinations), but there is no cure for schizophrenia. Therapy can sometimes help an individual cope with their disorder and help them to lead a more normal life. It isn’t that individual’s fault that they have this disorder, so why do we so often think of them as criminals?