In recent years, Hollywood film producers have caught the attention of many medical professionals and survivors of Dissociative Identity Disorders with films such as Split (2017) and a related movie, Glass (2019). These and other films portray individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) as violent human beings. These films are creating more of a stigma in society for the individuals who have this psychological disorder.
DID is a complex disorder. While it’s clinically recognized and accepted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) for over 50 years, it is still misunderstood by both professionals and mainstream society (ISSTD, 2017). Most individuals with DID are non- violent, but Hollywood producers continue to paint a false image of individuals with a disorder that is created by childhood trauma. DID is a psychological disorder that is a creative and unique way to survive.
It’s no secret that this disorder is largely stigmatized in the world and isn’t truly understood by most medical professionals. But isn’t it an injustice to suggest these individuals with DID are violent human beings?
Unless you are professionally trained in psychology, counseling or psychiatry, it is likely that most of your knowledge about mental illness will come from films, newspapers, and television. However, are these sources showing the right images or wrong ones? Are these sources sending out inaccurate information on mental illness?
Outside of the 1990 movie Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase, which was based on her autobiography; When Rabbits Howl (1987), no film has been based on the actual experience of someone with DID, where the subject of the film contributed to the script. In the 1999 movie Fight Club the protagonist is an extremely aggressive person. In the more recent films Split and Glass one of the actors is a deranged individual with DID who abducts, kills, and terrorizes people in the films. This individual in the film is a very violent human being and is a labeled a killer. Individuals with DID have a mental illness, they are not “violent human beings”. Would you call someone with depression ‘lazy’? Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood, including lack of energy and motivation. They are not being ‘lazy’.
At any given time, 20% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness. Are they all violent? With respect to the producers of these frightening films, these misleading, inaccurate portrayals, serve only to further marginalize those who already struggle daily with the weight of societal stigma. The problem is Hollywood film producers have the desire to make frightening films, but they tend to focus more on the financial part, than the impact of the movie on society. Shyamalan and Universal studios have made millions from these two films because we all know people love to be frightened. But should this be done at the expense of a vulnerable people that struggle to be recognized and received the proper treatment they deserve?
Research suggests an individual with DID would most likely harm themselves, not another human being (Nedelman, 2017). Webermann and Brand (2017) published a research paper, which examined reports of criminal or violent behaviour in people with dissociative disorders. The results showed that out of 173 individuals in treatment for DID, or a similar dissociative disorder, only 3% reported being charged with an offense in the past six months and only 0.6% were incarcerated. Their conclusion was that in this sample of individuals with a dissociative disorder, recent criminal justice involvement was low, and symptoms did not predict criminality or violent behaviors.
Despite this, there are many people who don’t want to know about DID or how it affects someone’s life. They just want to go to a frightening film that will make them jump out of their seats. Would you notice if someone in the middle of one of these films started to cry, or ran out of the theater because of such negative portrayals of DID? This individual just might have DID or some other trauma-related disorder.
Now, picture your neighbors who are kind, loving and intelligent individuals whom you trust and who are your friends. They have families and work as lawyers, housewives, teachers or physicians. Any one of these individuals could have DID and this is a much more positive (and realistic) portrayal of DID.
The current research shows approximately 1-3% of the general population may have DID. That means that the numbers in the US alone would be between 3-10 million people (ISSTD, 2017), yet the disorder is still untreated and unrecognized. There has never been a single publicly funded study in the United States about DID (ISSTD, 2017). The average patient will spend 7 years in the mental health system before being diagnosed. (ISSTD, 2017). This cannot be helped by such films. Many people won’t even want to admit to symptoms of DID after seeing these films.
Now is the time to act and give a better image of DID.
My name is Tammy, I’m a non-violent, loving wife, mother and grandmother. I am an ISSTD student member and an advocate. I live with DID. I believe it is important to improve awareness of DID on Dissociative Identity Awareness Day which is held on March 5th, particularly in a world which continues to have stigma and where Hollywood and the media continues to show a false image of DID. It’s time to break that stigma.
ISSTD (2017) ISSTD Statement on the Movie “Split” ISSTD News, 23 January 2017.
Nedelman, M. (2017) What Shyamalan’s ‘Split’ gets wrong about dissociative identity disorder. CNN, 23 January 2017.
Webermann, A.R. & Brand, B.L. (2017) Mental illness and violent behavior: the role of dissociation, Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation, 4:2 DOI 10.1186/s40479-017-0053-9