The movie ”Words on Bathroom Walls” inspired me to learn more about schizophrenia. Here are some things I learned from the movie and educational YouTube videos.

People without schizophrenia cannot imagine the life of someone with it
People without schizophrenia cannot imagine the life of someone with it
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When I first saw the trailer for the movie “Words on Bathroom Walls,” I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the subject of mental health fascinated me. The fact that the movie focused on schizophrenia intrigued me. But then, I worried that the film would get everything wrong about schizophrenia and mental health in general. After having watched it with an open mind, I loved it. My research about schizophrenia helped me understand the condition and how the movie portrayed it so accurately. Here are some lessons I learned about schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia Is Often Diagnosed In Young Adulthood

Schizophrenia symptoms do not always appear until adolescence
Schizophrenia symptoms do not always appear until adolescence
Image by DanaTentis from Pixabay

Schizophrenia is often diagnosed in a person’s late teens to young adulthood. Men are typically diagnosed earlier than women. Because the symptoms of schizophrenia often look like normal adolescent angst, it can go undiagnosed until a person’s early thirties.

During adolescence, teenagers already have enough to deal with when it comes to school, relationships, and family drama. In “Words on Bathroom Walls,” a high school senior named Adam (played by Charlie Plummer) faced three major stress factors: abandonment from his birth father, perceived judgment by his mother’s boyfriend, and schizophrenia. To help him cope with school and family issues, three very diverse “imaginary” friends gave Adam advice and helped him feel less lonely. These friends displayed tough, relaxing, and perverted personalities.

During an interview in real life, an artist named Michelle Hammer talked about her schizophrenia. Like Adam from the movie, Michelle first noticed her schizophrenia symptoms in high school. At first, she spaced out frequently. Eventually, she started to hear voices. Her symptoms became so bad that she had the delusion that her mother was going to kill her. Although Michelle noticed symptoms during her adolescence, she did not receive the diagnosis until her early twenties when she thought her roommate was going to kill her.

Doctors Often Misdiagnose Schizophrenia

Sometimes people with schizophrenia are given the wrong medication for the wrong diagnosis.
Schizophrenia symptoms look like symptoms of other conditions.
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The very first part of “Words on Bathroom Walls” showed Adam talking about how difficult it was for his doctors to finally diagnose him with schizophrenia. One of Adam’s first symptoms was visual hallucinations. Before mental health was even considered a possibility for him, his doctor had him take a vision test. Overlooking a mental health diagnosis from the beginning of symptoms caused Adam’s symptoms to become more severe.

At first, Adam started seeing and hearing three people who were not real. These people were extraordinary but somewhat entertaining. The people and voices started off harmless. After a while, however, Adam saw his closet door open without him doing anything. He also heard a demon’s voice from inside the closet, telling Adam that he was worthless. The worst of his symptoms before his diagnosis appeared during a breakdown in his chemistry class. Adam saw and legitimately thought there was an earthquake with a black mist seeping out of a chemical beaker. He was the only person who could hear and see the incident.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Tracey Marks, the main symptoms of schizophrenia are fixed false beliefs, disorganized thinking, visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, and unresponsiveness to reality. To receive a schizophrenia diagnosis, patients must have at least two symptoms for one entire month. In the scenes mentioned in the movie, Adam showed visual and audio hallucinations at the same time. Since he also started to show mood disorder symptoms such as isolation and extreme agitation, doctors believed that he had schizoaffective disorder. The combination of mood and psychotic symptoms led to a slightly different diagnosis and treatment from schizophrenia.

People With Schizophrenia do Not Talk to Themselves

Even though people with Schizophrenia appear to talk to themselves, this is not true.
Even though people with Schizophrenia appear to talk to themselves, this is not true.
Photo by Kat Nelson on Unsplash

As previously mentioned, Adam often stayed in his room and talked to his three imaginary friends. In the world inside his head, these friends were physically there. So when he responded to them, it was as though he was responding to actual people. However, if someone went into his room, it would seem as though he was talking to himself or the walls. Of course, Adam knew that the people he was talking to were not real. So every time he heard and saw them in public, he tried his best to ignore them. This was not easy, but he had to do this to not appear strange to his classmates and teachers.

When Adam found an effective treatment for his schizophrenia, he started to see and hear the voices less. Eventually, they completely vanished. Since Adam was finally able to hear real voices instead of the ones in his head, he engaged more with the rest of the world. His mom and her boyfriend did not notice him talking to himself as much.

A YouTuber named Lauren from the “Living Well with Schizophrenia” channel spoke about her schizophrenia and schizoaffective symptoms. She confirmed that the voices in her head are different from real voices. Since she is on medication, it is easier for her to distinguish the voices. Here is what she said about coping with the voices.

As a bit of a coping mechanism to deal with these external voices, I have become familiar with them and I’ve actually even named one. One that comes up rather often I’ve named Jennifer. And so, it just kind of helps me to separate it from my own thoughts, and to realize that it is just a hallucination. It’s just Jennifer talking again, and it’s not my own thoughts…

Lauren, What It’s Like Living with Schizophrenia/Schizoaffective Disorder, Living Well with Schizophrenia YouTube channel

Schizophrenia Stigma Negatively Affects Self-Esteem

Stigma hurts people in more ways than many of us realize.
Stigma hurts people in more ways than many of us realize.
Photo by Aliyah Jamous on Unsplash

Adam had a tough time fitting in with the people around him. He thought schizophrenia made him a bad person. So, he tried to keep his secret from everyone, including his love interest, Maya (played by Taylor Russell). Little did he know, Maya had a secret of her own. When both of their secrets were revealed, they were both embarrassed. Unlike Maya, who explained her secret, Adam demanded that Maya leave so that he would not hurt her.

I’m always gonna see things and hear things that I shouldn’t. And the drugs aren’t always gonna work. I’m sorry, but I can’t put you through that.

Adam, Words on Bathroom Walls

As you can see, people with schizophrenia realize that they have trouble dealing with their condition. They are loving people who do not mean to push people away, but they do it out of protection. In the process, they stigmatize themselves. Part of this self-stigma stems from what they are taught about reality by people around them. This is why loved ones of people with schizophrenia to show support, understanding, and acceptance. Everyone should treat those with schizophrenia like the worthy human beings that they are.

If you think Words on Bathroom Walls looks like a good movie, take some kleenex as well as a pen and notebook with you. You will learn about schizophrenia symptoms and treat and interact with those who have the condition. The events that unfold will be your introduction to the world of schizophrenia.

Overall, I would highly recommend Words on Bathroom Walls to anyone interested in learning about schizophrenia. I also encourage you to look into personal YouTube videos about schizophrenia to get more perspectives on living with the condition. If you have seen Words on Bathroom Walls, comment about whether it resonates with you and what you have learned from it.