Schizophrenia Research Forum - A Catalyst for Creative Thinking

Forum Discussion: TV Neuroscientist—With Schizophrenia, No Less!—Solves Crimes


Eric Mccormick of Will & Grace fame returns to the small screen.

Perhaps you've seen the latest new twist on a crime procedural from TNT. Called Perception, it features a brilliant "neuroscience professor" who uses Sherlock Holmes-like deductive prowess to help the FBI solve crimes. This professor also happens to be living with paranoid schizophrenia.

We have our own thoughts about the show's depiction of the academic life (BIG office—lots of free time), but we also wonder what our readers think of this TV depiction of schizophrenia. Interestingly, one of the character's main symptoms seems to be visual hallucinations (he hallucinates people who help him solve the crime).

If you've seen the show, post a comment with your thoughts. If not, you can catch the show Mondays on TNT (10 p.m., EST) and watch back episodes online.

View Comments By:
Kristin Bell — Posted 30 July 2012
Frederick Frese — Posted 30 July 2012
Dennis Grayson — Posted 1 August 2012
Robin Cunningham — Posted 22 August 2012
Marvin Ross — Posted 14 September 2012


Comments on Online Discussion
Comment by:  Kristin Bell
Submitted 30 July 2012
Posted 30 July 2012

Editor's note: This comment first appeared at the KristinBell.org blog.

I’m always skeptical of depictions of people with mental illness on TV and in movies, because they usually make them out to be psychopathic killers or something. I’ve watched the first two episodes of Perception so far, and I think they do an excellent job of making the character seem like a regular human being! It is so fantastic! They use the hallucinations as kind of a dramatic device and employ some other Beautiful Mind-esque devices to try to let the viewer see what the character is seeing. Some commenters have argued that it doesn’t show the horrific aspects of schizophrenia enough, but I personally like that they are showing him to be a regular person, and an intelligent one at that! I like that they show him holding down a job, interacting with people socially, and using the help of other people to reality test. I’m excited to see how the character and the show develop, and I hope it gets picked up for another season!

View all comments by Kristin BellComment by:  Frederick Frese
Submitted 30 July 2012
Posted 30 July 2012

In reply to your request for comments about the TV production, Perception: As one with a Ph.D. in psychology (subspecialty: psychophysiology), and currently being an associate professor of psychiatry, who also has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, I would suggest the following:

1. The possibility for a person diagnosed with schizophrenia to earn a doctorate in the mental health field, and even hold an academic position is not unheard of (see Frese et al., 2009, and Miller et al., in press).

2. The portrayal of a person with schizophrenia as one who takes medicine, has symptoms, and is subject to relapses is a reasonable characterization of many of us with this condition.

3. The visual hallucinations experienced by the protagonist are similar to those employed in the movie, A Beautiful Mind. Even though they are highly unlikely to occur in schizophrenia, they would appear to be an effective use of "artistic license" in a visual medium such as cinema or television.

4. Overall, I think that most persons with schizophrenia would prefer to have one of us portrayed as a heroic crime-fighter, rather than in our traditional cinematic characterization as one who is bizarre, mysterious, and dangerous.

References:

Frese F, Knight E, Saks, E (2009). Recovery from schizophrenia: With views of psychiatrists, psychologists, and others diagnosed with this condition. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 35, 370-380. Abstract

Miller R, Frese F J, & Chadwick P K (in press). Reflections from within: Three stories from inside psychosis. In A. Mishara & M. Schwartz (Eds.) Phenomenolgical neuropsychology: Bridging the clinic with clinical neuroscience. Halifax, MA: Springer.

View all comments by Frederick FreseComment by:  Dennis Grayson
Submitted 1 August 2012
Posted 1 August 2012

I've also been watching Perception, now up to four episodes, with some interest. It is an entertaining show that highlights a high-functioning professor with schizophrenia who is sought by the FBI for his help in solving crimes that are eluding them.

As mentioned in the other comments, the show is a variation on the homicide detective genre with the twist being that one of the FBI agents has developed a strong connection with the protagonist. While we know little about the professor, his primary symptoms are positive and revolve around visual and auditory hallucinations. However, rather than being disruptive, he often draws ideas related to the crimes he has been asked to investigate. In addition, he shows little, if any, cognitive impairment, although we don't know how many years ago he was diagnosed. As noted by Frederick Frese, the atypical nature of the patient's clinical presentation is reasonable. Interestingly, he is a neuroscience professor and the character is well portrayed by the actor.

View all comments by Dennis GraysonComment by:  Robin Cunningham
Submitted 17 August 2012
Posted 22 August 2012

I agree with most of the comments already made by others concerning the new TV series Perception. Like Kristen (see her comments above), I find the suggestion that Perception does not sufficiently address the agonies of schizophrenia rather odd.

Some individuals and organizations argue that graphic images of the pain and suffering experienced by individuals with schizophrenia, and often their families and friends, are essential to induce the general public to support research into better treatments and cures. I disagree.

Ever since the illness was first defined by Kraepelin in 1896 (i.e., for longer than most of us have been alive), we have seen depictions of persons with schizophrenia in print, and once these media became available, in movies and on TV. These images have overwhelmingly produced misinformation through omission and have created uncertainty, fear, and stigma that have been damaging both to society and all those who have to deal with this condition in one way or another.

Historically, in addressing schizophrenia the media in large part has focused on the worst (read "most sensational") aspects of schizophrenia because these are the most entertaining. This has the unfortunate side effect that the general public rarely sees anything about the lives of individuals who, through medication and therapy, have become functional and productive members of society despite this condition. Some have become highly functional and successful even by society’s most demanding standards. Their stories are often quite dramatic, with intriguing twists and turns. Given the obstacles they have overcome, their accomplishments are extraordinary and inspiring.

It appears that Perception is intended to educate as it entertains. Hopefully, it will succeed and begin to redress the imbalance in the portrayal of individuals with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses are endemic. Statistically, if you are in a room with 99 other individuals, one of you has schizophrenia. And 20 to 25 individuals will have some other form of mental illness.

Isn't it time for society to stop exploiting the agonies of persons with mental illness as entertainment and, like Perception does, focus on their accomplishments and on finding better treatments and cures? I salute all those involved in the creation of Perception.

View all comments by Robin CunninghamComment by:  Marvin Ross
Submitted 13 September 2012
Posted 14 September 2012

I agree with those who have commented that it is nice that a TV show is finally portraying someone with schizophrenia as having accomplishments. The problem is, as I describe in more detail in a recent article for the Huffington Post, that the character is not taking medication because, as he lectures at the end of the first episode, the medication slows him down and robs him of what may make him unique as an individual—his symptoms.

Both Dr. Frese and Mr. Cunningham missed that, I think, as they mentioned the taking of medication in their comments. For that reason, I am not a fan of the show, as I fear it will send the wrong message to people that medication is not really necessary.

View all comments by Marvin Ross