DID is part of neurodiversity and is one of the most misunderstood diagnoses. It is important to learn why the current media representation is harmful and how you can help stop the spread of misinformation.
Image by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash
Recently we are rewatching Babylon 5. It is a 90s science fiction television series created by J. Michael Straczynski. In an episode titled "The Corp is Mother. The Corp is Father" we get a glimpse into the inner workings of the Psy Corps. The Psy Corp is an organization for telepaths that is laced with negativity throughout the show. However, this episode of Season 5 stood out because of one thing: it features a telepath with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Dissociative Identity Disorder in Media
If you watch television or movies you have been exposed to characters with generalized stereotypical DID. The storytelling of DID includes “Fight Club” and the DC series “Doom” throughout the years that have lead DID characters. Neurodiversity in the film has consistently given the audience a preview of biased DID.
Neurodivergent representations in entertainment are never accurate. For example, the extremely controversial film by Sia that stigmatized being autistic. A film was created about autistic people without accurate information from the neurodivergent perspective. The same issue is seen when media and entertainment add Dissociative Identity Disorder as a character trait.
Either there is a misrepresentation of what the disorder looks like with updated psychiatry information or they make it seem as though the person has a superpower. Dissociative Identity Disorder is caused by extreme trauma and this should be wished upon someone. Accepting that you are a system does not mean you appreciate or desire the trauma you experienced to become multiple.
The representation of DID in the media is a dangerous balance of stigma and misinformation that creates implicit biases for the audience. Truly, stigma is in the television screen, social media and is in the hands of people that spread false facts. DID has been historically misrepresented as a superpower or some form of a fabulous gift.
DID is considered to be a disorder that people love to hate and the media loves to exploit.
DID individuals have been on talk shows for entertainment, presenting as having multiple personalities, and had a bonanza of movies on the subject including "The Three Faces of Eve", "Sybil" and "Identity". DID is not romanticized which makes it harder for society to understand DID.
DID is notoriously villainized.
The stigma of "evil" alter
DID is surrounded by stigma, but this episode portrayed more than just the usual stereotypes. While in the time of this filming DID was known as Multiple Personalities Disorder, which is referenced in the episode, it highlights one extremely biased idea about DID: Evil or violent alters committing crimes.
In an article by a mental health charity organization in Australia, SANE reports that people with DID are NOT more likely to commit violent crimes.
The perpetual idea that alters are "bad" or "evil" is a myth that stigmatized and damages the DID community. A neurotypical person can commit a crime just like a neurodivergent person can commit a crime.
Even though this episode had outdated and stigmatized information, there were some positive elements in the episode that deserve compliments.
What Babylon 5 did right
The episode showed a man in a state of psychosis. Psychosis does not impact everyone the same way, but it is a common part of trauma disorders. Secondly, when they revealed that the character was diagnosed with psychosis and dissociation there was no judgment passed. Often, in films and media, there is a judgment on the person that has DID. In reality, the person that is multiple had no control over becoming a system.
Trauma is not a choice. It is imposed by external forces that victimize a young child and then that child experiences the emotional aftermath as they grow. The fact that this character was not shunned, but showed empathy was a vital part to the story.
The character was not coherent during the episode but in a constant state of psychosis. Instead of portraying DID as a superpower, which is a science fiction show, they could have, they showed a picture of mental health struggles. Any mental health diagnosis has its barriers in life and sometimes people only get to see you at your best. However, the truth is mental health struggles will evolve over time, and sometimes they are worse.
A change of representation
DID helps form defense mechanisms against unbearable trauma that life otherwise cannot bear. DID is not a "one size fits all" disorder, it is different for everyone. The fact is that too many people that have no understanding of DID are the ones creating characters and content around the disorder. People assume that by commenting on mental health they are an ally, but if you are researching information on an extremely stigmatized disorder make sure to get your facts right.
A social media post, a blog article, or even a comment can provide misinformation that spreads bias and stigma. The best way to get accurate information is to look at credible psychological articles and academic sources that are updated to date. If you know a system, reach out to them because they will have more resources for you to read and discover more information.
Keep in mind that many individuals experiencing DID tend to avoid talking about past events because they fear being judged. Also, it can be triggering to discuss your mental health with strangers, family, and friends. It is important to ask if someone is comfortable speaking about their DID. If they say no, respect it.
Remember that it is not an interrogation if someone does share their story with you. It is a means of breaking the stigma and bringing awareness to the disorder. Once you learn their story, it doesn’t make you an expert. Once you reach credible articles it doesn’t make you an expert.
Learn, accept and support those in your life that are systems without judgment and do not contribute to misinformation online. DID is one of the most misunderstood individuals you will ever come across.
Therefore, it is vital that you learn with an open mind and with the right motivation: To become an ally and support those with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Disclaimer: We are a diagnosed DID system. This article is from a systems perspective and all opinions are our own.