Splitting the movie myth of split personalites

By Orla O Driscoll

The use of mental health issues in movies often leads to misunderstandings about the disorders. Credit: Getty Images

Teasing a fear from the depths of safety delivers a rush of adrenaline, increases our heart rates and is often referred to as the fight or flight response; the edge of the unknown. Little children who worry about the bogeyman under the bed can jump enormous distances in fear of a hand which could shoot out and grab a skinny ankle. 

Moviemakers thrive on this fear, and they will use any tactic imaginable to deliver this jolt which makes us want to hide with our eyes wide open. Yet, movies often offer as common place the instances in which mental illness is the protagonist, the reason the man is hiding in the back of the wardrobe, or why the knife wielding woman is laying, silently, just out of line of that rear-view mirror.

Don’t pull back the shower curtain, don’t open basement door, don’t give the stranger a lift, they’re all crazy, all waiting on every dark stretch of road for you to run out of fuel.

The impetuous acts of the central character(s) Kevin offered in ‘Split’ the movie, is a perfect exemplar of using mental health issues to deliver a fear of an unknown entity, that of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Kevin harbours more than one personality, so many differing personalities in fact that he can no longer comprehend them all himself, and he is no longer ably to identify who is the self. The movie users a glorification technique to bring each personality to the fore and treats us to them, as a delicious canvas of how the humanity of one person can be so totally manipulated to the degree that each of these personas is horrendously flawed.

We are offered a clear construct. This man has severe Mental health issues including a disorder (DID) which tends towards what can only be described as schizophrenic episodes. This point is laboriously punctuated to tell us Kevin cannot deal with stressors and ultimately his most deviant self, will win out, his persona called Beast, the strongest of him.


The use of mental health issues to pad out character flaws for TV and movies deprives viewers an ability to understand the actuality of a lot of conditions. If not experienced first-hand, this becomes a real problem, and adds to the stigmatisation of mental health.

Studies and scientists remain at odds over the cause, existence, and the manifestation of (DID). However, a study by professor Paul F Dell published in ‘The psychiatric clinic of North America journal’ looked at 220 persons who have (DID) and offers three contrasting strands of the condition: ‘An alter disorder, a complex dissociative disorder, and the socio-cognitive model which argues that DID is a socially-constructed, iatrogenic condition.”


Science indicates this condition, regardless of its manifestations or construct, is a mental health issue, yet movie makers would rather we don’t walk into the woods, or let the car run out of fuel.

Face it, a rush of adrenaline will not be achieved if a person with a mental illness offers us the use of a phone to make a call.


Orla O Driscoll