“Split” Adds to Dissociative Identity Disorder Stigma

This movie makes people with DID the next in a long line of cultural scapegoats. Audiences will sit through it, shivering delightfully in the dark and be reassured once again that all the evil in the world can be blamed on “the crazies.” lain C, TheMighty.com, who lives with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), about Split

Split, now available to rent, is M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest movie and one that unfortunately contributes to stigma regarding dissociative identity disorder.

A brief synopsis from IMDB: “Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, [and] they must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.” James McAvoy plays Kevin, the man with DID.

Watch a trailer for Split below:

One problem: movies such as Split tend to give a grossly inaccurate impression regarding DID and a propensity for violence. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) has refuted this myth citing recent research statistics: “…3 percent were charged with an offense, 1.8 percent were fined, and less than 1 percent were in jail over a six-month span. No convictions or probations were reported in that time period” (Kristen Fischer, Healthline).

Moreover, ISSTD extends its objections to Split beyond the scope of DID:

With respect to Mr. Shyamalan’s ability to write and direct truly frightening movies, depicting individuals with this, or any other mental disorder, does a disservice to his artistic ability and to the over 20 percent of the population who, at some time or another, struggle with some form of mental illness. It acts to further marginalize those who already struggle on a daily basis with the weight of stigma.

Not that Shyamalan didn’t receive appropriate consultation. Bethany Brand, a clinical psychologist and professor, responded to his request and offered (free) advice, including that she’d help connect him with individuals who actually live with DID, something Shyamalan never took her up on. He also failed to follow through on a pledge to work on raising public awareness about the reality of the condition (CNN).

Another controversial aspect of Shyamalan’s depiction is explained by Charles Bramesco, The Verge. Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s psychiatrist, “repeatedly spells out her controversial theory that DID grants sufferers extraordinary control of their bodies, citing such examples as a blind woman with a personality capable of vision, or a strongman personality spontaneously developing extraordinary strength.” Research does show that different alters can display different capabilities—But…and the following contains movie spoilers…

Shyamalan extends the concept to a cartoonish extreme when he introduces Kevin’s personality ‘the Beast,’ which has superhuman abilities and a monstrous appearance. By the end of the film, Kevin is exhibiting abilities that amount to superpowers, somehow derived from what professional consensus indicates is his brain’s extreme coping mechanism to a fleetingly shown childhood of abuse…The act of other-ing Kevin as a patient of DID isn’t even incidental; it’s the whole point. It’s hard to imagine a more squarely on-the-nose example of demonizing mental illness than portraying a mentally ill man as a literal demon.

In closing, here’s powerful personal testimony from the writer of this post’s opening quote (TheMighty.com):

What if someone made a movie about you – only you were the villain? Not a brilliant, super-villain who is kind of cool, but someone horrifyingly bizarre and dangerous…
…Once again, people with deep psychological wounds get mis-cast as the perpetrators instead of, more realistically, victims of violence. Along the way, it lowers the odds of us having friends, finding love, working at terrific jobs and getting care. At the same time it ups the odds of abandonment, rejection and someone protecting themselves against us with misguided force. In fact, while people with DID are organized differently inside…we’re no more likely to hurt people than anyone else…

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