As all of us who live with DID know, the media is obsessed with painting us as monsters who would murder and maim innocent people. This article was written by a specialist in DID, Bethany Brand.
See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316612331
Split is based on myths about dissociative
Article · January 2017
Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects:
TOP DD Network Study View project
ISSTD scientific committee View project
Bethany L Brand
May 1, 2017, Vol. 62, No. 18, Article 8
© 2017 American Psychological Association
Split Is Based on Myths About
Dissociative Identity Disorder
A Review of Split (2016)
by M. Night Shyamalan (Director)
Bethany Brand , Danielle Pasko
Split is doing well at the box office around the world, but it misrepresents people with
dissociative identity disorder (DID; previously called multiple personality disorder). The trailer is particularly gripping, luring in audiences by depicting a man with DID kidnapping and preparing to torture three teenage girls. Kevin (played by James McAvoy) juggles 24 personalities that are based on stereotypes: a cutesy 9-year-old infatuated with Kanye West, a flamboyant designer, and the “Beast,” a superhuman monster who sees the girls as “sacred food.” Kevin falsely represents people with DID through exaggerated symptoms, extreme violence, and unrealistic physical characteristics. The senior author, an expert in DID, has not seen any DID patient who is this violent in 25 years of clinical practice. Kevin’s ghastly personalities are so over-the-top that terrifying scenes are making audiences laugh. Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), one of the kidnapped girls whose own history of childhood sexual abuse seems to make her intuit how to interact with Kevin, figures their best chance for
survival is to get Kevin’s “child” personality to help them escape before the Beast comes
forward to kill them. Casey’s companions (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) portray stereotypical helpless, attractive, scantily clad females. Their lack of substance as characters is superseded by the naiveté of Kevin’s therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who is invested in believing that people with DID are superior to the rest of us. “What if people who’ve been shattered are more, not less,” she muses. Blindly believing Kevin is an innocent, harmless man due to her enthrallment with his multiplicity, Dr. Fletcher commits a serious error in treating DID (Chu, 1988). She clings to her (or Shyamalan’s) notion that people with DID have overcome normal human limits by harnessing untapped brain power.
Lacking in clinical judgment and common sense, as well as ignoring professional boundaries, Dr. Fletcher goes alone and unannounced to Kevin’s subterranean home because she suspects he is in crisis. This boundary-less behavior is the opposite of what DID experts recommend. Rather than becoming overly fascinated with DID, experts advise therapists to keep clear boundaries and set limits with DID patients to avoid engaging in reenactments of the boundary violations committed by the individuals who mistreated and abused the patients in their youth (Brand, Loewenstein, & Spiegel, 2014; Chu, 1988; International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, 2011). Well-trained therapists would instead request an emergency evaluation by the police or a psychiatric mobile crisis unit,rather than take on such a potentially dangerous role. Regardless of the ticket sales Split is generating, it stigmatizes an already exploited group of people at a time when gun control, mental illness, and discrimination are important topics in our country. People with DID are not at high risk for being violent to others. They are much more likely to be victimized than they are to harm others (Webermann & Brand, 2017; Webermann, Brand, & Chasson, 2014). Yet Split portrays them as terrifying monsters that pose a threat to their communities. This stereotype is contradicted by research. People with
DID are not violent monsters. David Spiegel, MD, associate chair of psychiatry at Stanford University, states, “The majority of violent crimes are committed by people without mental illness, and the majority of people with mental illness do not commit violent crime”
People develop DID due to severe, chronic childhood abuse. In other words, being
exploited causes this disorder (Brand et al., 2016). Universal Studios and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan are making millions of dollars stigmatizing and exploiting people who have already been tragically exploited.
The traumatic experiences of children who later develop DID were so horrific that the only way for the child to cope was to “go away” in his or her mind. Dissociation was the escape when there was no escaping abuse. Only by “splitting” off their memories—and, with it, fragments of themselves—could these individuals survive. Shame, self-hatred, and feeling Fragmented, misunderstood, and feared by others are lifelong scars carried by many with DID. This film enhances the negative feelings and burdens these people carry, making it that much more difficult to cope with, and heal from, DID.
Due to a lack of knowledge about the assessment and treatment of DID, these individuals are often underrecognized and underserved (Brand et al., 2016). Persons with DID are usually in the mental health system for 7 years or more before a clinician accurately diagnoses DID (Brand et al., 2016). Treatment for DID is a complex and long process, requiring a skilled mental health professional trained in treating problems stemming from severe trauma. Tragically, few have the resources to obtain such services, in addition to the shortage of therapists trained in treating DID. People with DID are often misclassified as psychotic, personality disordered, attention seeking, or malingering (Brand et al., 2016; Dorahy et al., 2014). If charged with a crime and evaluated, they are commonly assessed with tests that were developed without an understanding of the impact of trauma; such tests are likely to lead to misclassifying trauma-related difficulties as exaggeration or malingering (Dorahy et al., 2014). If labeled as feigners, these individuals are at risk for being mistreated in the court and mental health system. Jurors in future court cases may generalize the violent characterization of DID sensationalized by Split to real people with DID with disastrous consequences, possibly even sentencing someone to death due to this
Stigmatizing and inaccurate film portrayals of psychological disorders and the suffering of the most abused and vulnerable people among us for the sake of “entertainment” are destructive in ways that far outweigh any value to the public, director, or movie studio. It is unfortunate that entertainment and profit are favored over the negative effects that this kind of sensationalized movie has on people suffering with DID. This movie could have been a wonderful opportunity to challenge stereotypes and provide an accurate depiction of the daily struggles endured by those with DID. Instead, it adds to their suffering by promulgating stigmas about DID, as noted in an online letter written and signed by individuals with DID (https://themighty.com/2016/12/letter-to-m-night-shyamalan-diddissociative-
identity-disorder/). Split reignites public fears about mental illness, undermining
the progress that has been made over the past decades to educate the public about mental illness and to dispel stereotypes.
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