I belong to an writers group called Query Tracker. Occasionally I receive e-mails from “experts” in specific topics of interest to writers. This one makes me throw up my hands. Carolyn Kaufman trots out all the stereotypes and the recovery movement seems to have completely passed her by.
Posted: 08 Aug 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent psychological advice.
ANSWER: Schizophrenia is really one of the most disabling psychological disorders someone can have — only about a third of people with the disorder are able to live independently. By definition, schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder, which means that the person who has it isn’t in touch with reality as other people experience it. Symptoms of psychosis include:
People with schizophrenia can be articulate and intelligent — John Nash, the man on which A Beautiful Mind was based, is well-spoken and obviously extremely well educated. But he does see and hear things, and he has delusions.
Nonetheless, I think it would be very unusual for someone with schizophrenia to be able to be a detective or a police officer, even if he were taking medications. The meds can often suppress the psychotic symptoms, but that doesn’t mean the schizophrenia goes away. And the meds tend to work better for what we call “positive” symptoms (like hallucinations, delusions, and disorganization) than they do for “negative” symptoms like catatonia, apathy, mutism, failing hygiene, and other tendencies to withdraw from society.
However, someone who has bipolar disorder (which used to be called manic depression) could be, assuming they’d never been institutionalized. Like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder that can be crippling, and for some people it can also involve hallucinations and delusions, particularly during a manic phase.
I know that you can’t get into the CIA or FBI if you have a history of mental illness of any sort, or have been to therapy for a psychological problem. Though I doubt the police are quite as stringent, they’re still on the lookout for these kinds of disorders. So it would probably need to be something that hasn’t officially been diagnosed.
Martin Riggs — Mel Gibson’s character from the Lethal Weapon movies — comes to mind. He’s a great example of a great character who went a little (ok, a lot) crazy and was still a police officer. If you’re not familiar with the movies, Riggs’s wife dies, and he gets crazy suicidal, which makes him a complete loose cannon. If I had to diagnose Riggs off the top of my head in the first movie, I’d say a major depressive disorder, last (current) episode severe.
While some people have begun arguing that people on the schizotypy spectrum (of which schizophrenia is a part) are more creative than others, that creativity is often so different from the way other people think that it may not been seen as creativity…just as weirdness. People with bipolar disorder have more classically been seen as creative, though. They tend to be creative within the “rules” of society — that is, their stuff looks creative, not just bizarre, to other people.
There isn’t really an inner conflict someone with schizophrenia has to overcome — it’s very much a biological disorder. So is bipolar disorder, though the person with bipolar disorder may not seem quite as bizarre, and may function more within the norms of society.
Also remember that with any disorder there’s a continuum from “not bad” to “really bad” versions of the disorder. So some people will have any given disorder worse than others, based on the genetics and how stressful their environment has been throughout their lives. Less severe cases may respond better to medications and therapy.
Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want to see answered here, use the Q&A form on my Archetype site or send an email using my QueryTracker email address to the right. (Please use Q&A in your Subject Line!).
Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD‘s book, THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and “get the psych right” in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer’s Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K’s blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+!
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