Guest Editorial Courtesy of UMSL Counseling Services

M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 film “Split tells the story of Kevin, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) who kidnaps and imprisons three teenage girls. The plot of the movie features the man’s supposed DID heavily, and establishes that the multiple personalities (and one in particular, ‘The Beast,’ which endows him with superhuman abilities) cause him to kill and eat two of the young women. “Splitwas widely seen, made $257 million at the box office, and will be screened this Friday on the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ campus by our University Programming Board (UPB). This is a potentially devastating problem.

Approximately 1% of people experience the disruption in autobiographical memory and unified identity that is the central characteristic of DID (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).  People with DID usually suffer severe trauma during their childhood and go on to experience some of the highest risk of any group: more than 70% of them attempt suicide, commonly more than once.  This is a vulnerable population that deserves and desperately needs our care and respect. Instead “Split” perpetuates stigma by telling a story that people with DID are scary and violent.  The portrayal of the disorder is in no way accurate nor does it reflect the experience of someone with DID, rather uses a very real mental illness as a prop and source of entertainment without concern for the real harm it will do.

One of the central parts of our mission here at UMSL Counseling Services is to increase access to mental health care and to decrease stigma surrounding mental illness. We strongly believe that showing “Split” on campus is contrary to both of these objectives. We have shared our concerns with UPB and will have a handout outlining the possible harm this film may bring to both individuals and our campus community. We invite anyone who chooses to view the film to be mindful that is a work of fiction and does not realistically portray DID or any other mental illness.

We also encourage viewers to ask themselves as they watch the film:

  • “Would this portrayal make me more or less likely to want to be friends with someone with DID? Date them?  Hire them to work with me?  Does this make me feel safer or less safe around people with mental illness?”
  • “If I had been diagnosed with DID and already struggling, would it make my life easier or harder to see myself portrayed in this way?”

The stigma against people experiencing mental health problems is pervasive, even though people with mental illness are far more likely to be a target of abuse than a perpetrator of violence. We are disappointed in how “Split” contributes to these perceptions, and hope UMSL students will be mindful of how harmful media seeks to profit from serious mental health problems while increasing stigma. We certainly hope there can be an opportunity to discuss these issues at a later time. In the meantime, remember that Counseling Services stands ready to assist the UMSL student body in a sensitive, caring, and responsive manner.