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Portrayal of Schizophrenia in the Film, ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’

The definition of schizophrenia, within DSM-5 context, refers to chronic and severe mental disorder effecting the perception, behaviour and thought of an individual. King (2011) classify symptoms of schizophrenia into three general categories, known as negative symptoms, positive symptoms, and cognitive deficits. People with schizophrenia witness incidents and beings, that are not actually present, and they have to exist in the world that is twisted, terrifying and takes the person into isolation. The highly disordered thought processes sometimes results in saying unusual things, and there body movement can become strange. The social exclusion is due to the feeling of being alone in the world that no one around seems to understand. Statistics suggest that the suicide risk increases eight-fold vis-à-vis general population. The primary positive symptoms are hallucinations, movement disorder, thought disorder, and delusion. The impairment of normal functioning results in positive symptoms that reflects on the exposure to added above when compared with normal behavior.

Negative symptoms are worrisome because they results is behavioral deficit, social withdrawal and reduction of normal functioning. For example, flat affect suggest that the person expresses no or least emotional empathy towards other. Lastly, cognitive symptoms are those that alter executive functioning (memory) and effects decision-making power. Nevertheless, the causes of schizophrenia also varies into psychological, biological, and sociocultural categories. Nieto-Rucian & Furness (2019) research focusses on the impact of a parent with schizophrenia on the immediate kids through a qualitative study investigating experience of six individuals from spatial proximity of Spain, who has spent a significant amount of their childhood or adolescence living with one of the parents with schizophrenia. The research adopts interpretive phenomenological analysis with three themes pertaining to ‘who am I?’ along with prison of silence, and role change and loss. This study highlights the lack of support, especially emotional deprivation at an early stage of life, and other lasting negative effects. This is also true in the case of film’s protagonist ‘Adam,’ whose loss of father at an early stage of life placed a deep hole in the heart of Adam. People around Adam lacked understanding of the way he actually feels in the presence of other beings outside the real world, that is, the three character, which sometimes becomes more than three. The results of the study explains each theme, for example, the ‘role change and loss’ refers to the transformation of social role and respective household environment that resulted due to schizophrenic condition of the parent. In the study, participants reflected on their experiences, especially women losing more of the freedom when compared with men. Family members of the parent with condition also face disturbances in the role change within household structure, where once mom is cared in the same fashion as she used to do when the condition was not present. The child feels deprived and undergoes through pain equivalent to loss of someone.

On the other hand, Bercovich et al. (2020) research attempts to explore the interactive effect of metacognition and self-compassion on the cause variable of ‘meaning in life,’ but in case of individuals with schizophrenic conditions. Findings of the research suggest that meaning in life is reflected at two subscales of self-compassion and one subscale of metacognition (master). At self-compassion level, mindfulness and self-kindness are the two scales that tends to provide hope in gaining positive results. The statistical analysis of the study also suggest that the self-compassion has a moderating effect on the meaning of life. The high-level of self-compassion individuals tend to have found metacognition as source of light in darkness. Eventual outcome of the self-compassion is attaining meaning in life with the ability of successful utilization of metacognition. There are various myths associated with schizophrenia, which includes myth of multiple disorder, genetically transfer from parents to children, violent behaviour, deprives intelligences and lack of social acceptability when considered worthy of a mental hospital.

Freudenthal’s “Words on Bathroom Walls, ‘is American romantic drama film written by Nick Naveda (2020). The protagonist of the story is Adam Petrazelli, who is high school senior in his mid-teen age. The narrator voice is of the protagonist, Adam Petrazelli, and the story begins with Adam narrating the history of the diagnosis. In the opening scene, Adam explains the initial doubt of health care practitioners thinking, ‘there was something wrong with my eyes,’ states Adam (Freudenthal, 2020, 00:01:08). And, later explains the process of hearing voices, including dark voice of extra-territorial being say, ‘Adam’ (Freudenthal, 2020, 00:01:30).

Adam’s step-dad is worried and expresses concerns of kid’s wellbeing when discussing the matter with her mother, regarding her to healthcare institution where optimum care can be managed (Freudenthal, 2020, 00:07:07), which he perceives negatively. Additionally, the characters like Rebecca, amongst other two, which Adam explains in his words as, “She’s sort of dalai lama meets Coachella” (Freudenthal, 2020, 00:07:35). Another totally contrasting from the hallucinatory world of Adam is ‘Bodyguard … temperamental but loyal’ (Freudenthal, 2020, 00:07:48). Bodyguard is reflective of the weaknesses that creates way for fear, and the tag-line of the character is ‘You have to always watch your back.’ Lastly, Jouaquin explained as ‘… horny best friend from a 90’s teen movie’ (Freudenthal, 2020, 00:08:00), representative of ‘unconscious mind’ because he says all the thoughts of Adam in ‘unfiltered’ fashion. These are people that coexist the real world for Adam, and accurately portrayed in the film; although, the actual cases are more violent, and varies depending on the case to case basis.

The protagonist ‘Adam’ of the story fulfils the diagnostic criteria set for schizophrenia condition under Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 295.90), whose impacts vary between emotional, behavioural to cognitive dysfunction. Adam experienced symptoms of hallucinations and disorganized speech as most obvious one which impairs social and occupational functioning. Adam has several characters in the world that is beyond the real world experience, and sometimes comes in contradiction with reality resulting in psychosis. The failure to accomplish desire level of academic, interpersonal and occupational functioning is reflected in the school life of Adam where he receives ‘D’ grade for his exam, while others around were securing ‘A’ grade. The treatment of schizophrenia can be lifelong, and it includes medication and therapy. Medication is in the prescribed drug of antipsychotic medication, and aims to reduce the harm carried out by the disorder’s symptoms. Adam witnesses deterioration of hallucinations when taking medication regularly, and feels a life that he had not remember experiencing since ever. Antidepressants and ant-anxiety drugs supplement the medication that Adam was taking, and mentions in the name of few that he is taking but not working in the initial time period of the medication.

The two concepts of social psychology related in the case of Adam are first impression, and confirmation bias, which places him at an uncomfortable position at socialization processes. The portrayal of abnormal behaviour has severe negative repercussions for the person with schizophrenic condition. When first Maya meets with Adam at the student café, she actually asks, ‘No offense, but are you special needs?’ and they are the first-impression image of person with schizophrenic condition. The mental image of that person is formed as the first impression of the real world, which places Adam at a disadvantaged position. In a similar way, confirmation bias refers to solidification of already established bias when selecting information suitable for consumption, and discards the contradictory paradigms that doesn’t fit with the already displayed bias. The existing attitudes of people around Adam causes emotional instability, and formed dissatisfaction for the role Paul has taken-over as father, coupled with reflecting on childhood traumas. For example, Adam’s father leaves him for his personal realization for life’s achievement, and he feels that the reason his father left him was the condition.

The combination of medication, psychotherapy and social support in the form of friends and family contribute positively to the control of schizophrenic condition especially in adolescent population. Adam started recovering when her mother hired a tutor ‘Maya’ from here school to assist him in improving his grades. It is the required social support, coupled with medication and psychotherapy that worked for Adam. However, the societal pressure is high because the journey of recovery is in real-time, which is his step-father’s role remains marginalized despite the good-will. The lack of stability at emotional level for Adam does not only depend on the process of treatment, but also the biases that exist in society. The movie is Adam’s narration to counsellor at psychotherapy which resulted in sustaining the journey, although getting her mom aware of the therapy sessions disrupts the pattern of smooth recovery in the first act of the movie. The confirmation bias and first impression are the two crucial social implication for individual’s diagnosed with schizophrenia because they are at two-front war, one in the real-world at socialization level, while the other is actually to reduce the symptoms of the condition. The portrayal of schizophrenia in the film, ‘Words on Bathroom Walls,’ is reflective of the real-life struggles faced by many in the urbanized and individualized lifestyle.


Bercovich, A., Goldzweig, G., Igra, L., Lavi-Rotenberg, A., Gumley, A., & Hasson-Ohayon, I. (2020). The interactive effect of metacognition and self-compassion on predicting meaning in life among individuals with schizophrenia. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal43(4), 290.

Freudenthal, T. (Director). (2020). Words on Bathroom Walls [Film]. Roadside Attractions.

King, L. A. (2011). The science of psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Nieto-Rucian, V., & Furness, P. J. (2019). The experience of growing up with a parent with schizophrenia—A qualitative study. Qualitative Psychology6(3), 254.



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