Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 07:57 UK

Schizophrenia: the horror movie

By Adam Brimelow
BBC News health correspondent


Stuart Baker Brown: 'I fell into a world of paranoia and fear'

Fresh evidence has emerged of the stigma surrounding mental health problems.

A poll by YouGov suggests that more than one in three of the public think people with schizophrenia are likely to be violent.

Two short films that challenge this misconception have been released.

They can be viewed online and will soon be screened in cinemas.

The opening frames create a mood of menace and tension -- with shifting shadows, eyes twitching, a jarring soundtrack, and the flashing banner "Schizo".

Bit by bit the camera edges closer to white creaky door.....

And then, behind it, there is Stuart - pouring a cup of tea, and talking about his life with schizophrenia.

"Hi there. I'm sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting a lunatic with a knife and some sort of rampage," he says.

He explains he was diagnosed with the condition 12 years ago.

Full life

He says many people with mental illness face prejudice, but that he had family and friends to help him lead a full life.

The film's director, Jonathan Pearson, says he wants to make people confront their own attitudes about mental illness and violence.

"It challenges it by using the typical conventions of a horror movie, and then half way through the film we change," he said.

"All the lights change from a horror section to a very inviting comfortable environment.

"So it has taken what you think, flipped it and used it against you."

The film is part of a wider campaign - called time to change - that has been set up to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health.

'Schizo' - a mental health anti-stigma trailer

The other film, called "Kid's Party" features Stuart "scaring" children with a giant spider made out of balloons.

Charities involved, including Mind, Rethink and Mental Health Media are exasperated over the way mental illness is often portrayed.

The Sun's "Bonkers Bruno locked up" headline about Frank Bruno is the most notorious example from news coverage.

But campaigners say films - like the Jim Carrey comedy "Me Myself and Irene" - can reinforce prejudice.

Campaigners point out that the risk of being killed by a psychotic stranger is about the same as a fatal lightning strike.

Initial wariness

Stuart Baker Brown, who plays himself in "Schizo", says people are often wary when they hear he's had mental health problems.

People associate schizophrenia and psychosis with people that attack or harm others - and I had the same misconceptions myself
Stuart Baker Brown
Schizophrenia patient

Films attack mental health stigma

"I think the concern with violence is on most peoples mind," he said.

"I know that before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia that I also assumed the same thing, basically because of the press portrayal.

"People associate schizophrenia and psychosis with people that attack or harm others - and I had the same misconceptions myself."

For many years Stuart, now a writer and photographer, thought the KGB were out to get him.

He suspected that his family and friends were spying on him.

But far from wanting to harm others, he says he was terrified that people wanted to hurt him.

"It is very difficult to reassure people," he said.

"If people get to know me they start to have a far greater understanding of what schizophrenia is really about.

"They can see the gentle person, the person who tries to understand the person who has normal emotions."

The film, which is about a minute long, can be seen online.

Make people think

Paul Corry, from the mental health charity Rethink, says he hopes it will make people think.

"We hope people are going to expect one thing and receive something different," he said.

"We hope that people are going to ask questions about that and say to the people that they're watching it with: 'Well, what do you think?'

"And then start a discussion, a debate about what the actual experience of living with a severe mental illness is like."

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