Catching Crazy Criminals: Representations of Schizophrenia in Criminal Minds

Criminal Minds is a television crime drama that revolves around the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The team uses forensic psychology and psychological profiling in order to catch criminals. Due to the psychological nature of the show, it has the potential to open up the conversation about mental illness and people who suffer from mental illnesses. I decided to look at the representation of schizophrenia within the show. Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by psychosis that usually manifests itself in the early twenties (Feist, 2012). There are three categories of symptoms of schizophrenia: positive, negative, and cognitive (Feist, 2012). Positive symptoms include delusional thinking, hallucinations, disorganized thought and speech, and poorly integrated perception (Feist, 2012). This is a simulation of what it is like to have auditory hallucinations, or to “hear voices.” Negative symptoms include nonresponsiveness, emotional flatness, immobility or the striking of strange poses (catatonia), reduction of speaking, and inability to complete tasks (Feist, 2012). Cognitive symptoms include problems with working memory; attention, verbal, and visual learning and memory; reasoning and problem solving; speed and processing; and disordered speech (Feist, 2012). Positive and cognitive symptoms are the most often seen in Criminal Minds due to their visual interest (Pirkis, Blood, Francis, & McCallum, 2006). Although Criminal Minds makes an effort to show the multiple sides of schizophrenia through reoccurring characters and unusual roles, it ultimately discourages the conversation about mental illness in society through its use of stereotypical representations.

Research and Methods

In my research, I used three articles that I found these articles using the database Communication and Mass Media Complete, and I made sure they were scholarly articles by sorting the results by academic journals and scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles. My articles are: “On-Screen Portrayals of Mental Illness: Extent, Nature, and Impacts;” “Media, Madness, and Misrepresentation: Critical Reflections on Anti-Stigma Discourse;” and “Mental Disorders Stigma in the Media: Review of Studies on Production, Content, and Influences.” I chose the articles because there really wasn’t a lot of research out there specifically focusing on schizophrenia, so I had to research mental illness in general. My search terms were “mental illness” and “mass media”, “schizophrenia” and “mass media,” and “mental illness” and “crime.” These articles give a comprehensive assessment of how mental illness is reflected in the media, both with those suffering and those treating them, as well as how this affects people suffering from mental illnesses in the real world by increasing the stigma against mental illness and decreasing help-seeking behavior among individuals with mental illnesses.

These articles all show that the media has a significant influence on the stigmatization of mental illness and the perceptions of people with mental illnesses, mental health professionals, treatments, and mental illnesses themselves (Harper, 2008)(Klin & Lemish, 2008)(Pirkis et al., 2006). They are relevant to my research because they show why it is important. If the media has this much influence over the perceptions of mental illness, it needs to be very careful as to how it portrays mental illness. The Pirkis et al. (2006) article helps to explain the different types of categories that people with mental illnesses are usually put into, and connects to my research to see if the characters in Criminal Minds fit into these stereotyped categories. These articles are much more general than my research because they look at mental illness in general, but that is to be expected because schizophrenia is a very specific topic. They ultimately show that the media has the ability to change how people perceive themselves and others, making it important to study how different forms of media, in my case the television show Criminal Minds, are portraying mental illness.

I worked with eleven episodes of Criminal Minds from seasons one through six that featured characters with schizophrenia. Five of these characters were the unidentified subjects (unsubs), criminals, and the other two are reoccurring characters on the show that reflect more diverse roles. The criminals were Dr. Theodore Bayer, Ben Foster, Gina King, Rhett Walden, and Marvin Doyle. The two reoccurring characters with schizophrenia are Dr. Spencer Reid, a genius FBI agent, and his mother, Dr. Diana Reid. I watched eleven episodes featuring the aforementioned characters: 6.19 “With Friends Like These…,” (Ben Foster), 5.07 “The Performer” (Gina King), 6.08 “Reflection of Crime” (Rhett Walden), 1.17 “A Real Rain” (Marvin Doyle), 1.09 “Derailed” (Dr. Theodore Bayer), 2.14 “The Big Game,” 2.15 “Revelations,” 4.06 “The Instincts,” 4.07 “Memoriam” (Dr. Diana Reid), 6.12 “Corazon,” and 6.17 “Valhalla” (Dr. Spencer Reid).  I chose these episodes by looking at the summaries on the back of the DVD cases.

Unidentified Subjects (Unsubs)

            Even though Criminal Minds attempts to disregard stereotypes through reoccurring characters with unique roles, it ends up reverting back to stereotypical categories in every character with schizophrenia. Each of the unsubs (Dr. Theodore Bayer, Ben Foster, Gina King, Rhett Walden, and Marvin Doyle) was represented as a “homicidal maniac” (Pirkis et al., 2006).

Dr. Theodore Bayer is a successful theoretical physicist until he begins to show symptoms of schizophrenia. He believes that the government is monitoring everyone and that he has a chip in his arm. Dr. Bayer also has vivid hallucinations of a man telling him that everyone is lying to him and that he should kill them. After years of therapy, he is deemed well enough to speak at a conference promoting a new anti-psychotic drug. On the way to the conference, he shares a train with one of the members of the BAU team. Upon seeing the agent’s FBI folder, he pulls out a gun and takes the train hostage. After Dr. Spencer Reid pretends to remove the chip from his arm, Dr. Bayer begins to agree to come out peacefully; the squad team shoots him.

Ben Foster is a paranoid schizophrenic who hears voices, characterized by whispering in the background of the show, and sees realistic hallucinations. These hallucinations are three people that died in a fire. Foster shows deep resentment towards his hallucinations because they tell him to kill. Originally, the BAU team thinks that they are dealing with a gang because the murders appear to have been completed by four different people. Foster often tells his hallucinations that he does not want to continue killing, but they promise him that he will be happy and they will go away forever. However, every time he kills, they return and promise him that just more kill will be his fulfillment. Foster often tries to rid himself of his hallucinations through calling his mother and attempting to get exorcised at a church. After a long police chase, Foster is shot by the BAU.

Gina King is a schizophrenic, and she is not as central to the plot line as the other unsubs. She is a major fan of a goth rock band, but she is in love with the lead singer, Dante. Dante’s manager takes advantage of the King’s schizophrenia by having her kill to promote the group’s newest album. King does so because she believes that the more she kills, the more Dante will fall in love with her. Eventually she is captured and arrested.

Rhett Walden is a schizophrenic who hallucinates that his dead mother is still alive. He was born to a movie star when she was only nineteen, essentially ruining her career. After his parents get divorced, his mother takes him on in a husband, including taking him into the marriage bed. He begins to kidnap women who look like his mother at age nineteen, dresses them up in his mother’s old clothes, and forces them to act out the love scene from his mother’s only famous movie with him. If they cause any problems with the scene, he kills them and cuts off their lips. When the BAU finally finds him, he is carrying the corpse of his dead mother with the lips of the latest victim sewn onto her. It is insinuated that he did this in order to continue having sexual relations with her corpse. When he is giving himself up to the police, he hallucinates that he is walking down a red carpet hand in hand with his mother. He is arrested.

Marvin Doyle is a paranoid schizophrenic who hears voices that tell him to kill. Like Gina King, he is not very central to the plotline. Doyle worked as a court reporter, and he got tired of seeing people who were obviously guilty get acquitted. Doyle claimed that he could hear the voices of the victims, and they were telling him to kill the guilty parties. Doyle is eventually arrested.

All of these characters fit into the category of the “homicidal maniac” (Pirkis et al., 2006). They kill because they hear voices or see hallucinations that encourage the violent behavior. Though Foster searches for help, he is eventually killed due to the perception that he is dangerous. These characters discourage the conversation about mental illness due to the insinuated relationship between schizophrenia and murder.

Dr. Spencer Reid

            Dr. Spencer Reid is a genius with an IQ of 187. He graduated from high school at the age of twelve and is currently a special agent at the age of twenty-four.  Due to his intellect, it is inferred early on that he has either Asperger’s syndrome or a mild form of autism. He often questions the mental illness stereotype and relates to the mentally ill unsubs. In episode 6.19, he points out to one of his teammates that they are relating the schizophrenia to the reason that Foster is killing. Dr. Reid makes the argument that having schizophrenia does not mean that the person immediately becomes a murderer. He also relates to several of the unsubs, telling them that he knows what it is like to be afraid of your own mind allowing the viewer to see a more human side to the “homicidal maniac.”

In season six, Dr. Reid begins to have severe headaches and sensitivity to light. He also begins to have some mild hallucinations. He goes to several doctors in order to try to figure out what is wrong with him, only to discover that there is no physical cause for his headaches. The doctors suggest that they might be psychosomatic. Dr. Reid immediately resists this diagnosis, stating, “I know something is physically wrong with me, and I’m not crazy. I knows what crazy looks like due to my mother, and I am not it” (6.12 “Corazon”). This backlash on the diagnosis adds to the negative representation of schizophrenia in this show. Dr. Reid is an intelligent, educated man who has experienced schizophrenia in his own life. If he reacts this negatively to it, then we are shown that having schizophrenia immediately makes one “crazy.”

Even the reactions of his teammates promote the negative stereotypes. When Dr. Reid approaches one of his teammates and admits that there is no physical reason for his headaches, instead of being told that there are ways to manage schizophrenia and that people live perfectly normal lives with this illness, he is comforted in telling him that is isn’t a sure thing that he has it. This makes schizophrenia almost seem to be equivalent to a terminal illness.

Dr. Diana Reid

            Dr. Diana Reid is Dr. Spencer Reid’s mother. She was also a genius and a successful professor at a university before being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Due to her schizophrenia, her husband leaves her, and Dr. Reid is forced to raise Spencer alone. She is very proficient as a parent, snuggling with her son at night when he is young, reading him bedtime stories, and giving him advice. Even when Spencer is older, he continues to write his mother a letter every day and goes to visit her whenever he has a case in Las Vegas. He also occasionally goes to her for advice on cases. When he comes into her room looking upset, she asks him what’s wrong. When he says nothing, she responds with, “don’t lie to me, a mother always knows” (4.07 “Memoriam”), At the end of the episode, Spencer spends the night on the couch in his mother’s room, further showing the strong bond they have as mother and son.

Despite the unique role of motherhood for a schizophrenia character, the writers often rely on traditional schizophrenia portrayals when it comes to Dr. Reid. She is put into the category of the victim of her illness (Pirkis et al., 2006). When her husband leaves her, he states it is because she can’t take care of herself. When he asks her what day it is, she gets confused and doesn’t know. As soon as Spencer turns eighteen, he has Dr. Reid put into a mental institution because he can no longer take care of his mother. She becomes hysterical and begs Spencer to allow her to stay in her home, but two men dressed in white come and drag her away while Spencer watches. Later, when Spencer asks her for help on a case, she is initially helpful, but eventually starts to have an attack of hysteria. She has to be subdued and drugged by the mental health care workers before she begins to calm down.

Here is a video from episode 2.01 “The Fisher King” that gives some insight into the relationship between Dr. Diana Reid and Dr. Spencer Reid.

1 in 4

            This research is important because one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lifetime (Klin & Lemish, 2008). It is proven that the way the media portrays things can increase or decrease stigma (Klin & Lemish, 2008). Increasing stigma about mental illness can decrease help-seeking behaviors in individuals who have serious mental illnesses (Klin & Lemish, 2008). That’s a large portion of the population who aren’t getting the help that they need. If these people don’t seek help, their quality of life could be severely decreased, and their mental illnesses could worsen (Klin & Lemish, 2008).


            Due to the nature of the show, Criminal Minds has abundant opportunities to encourage the conversation about mental illness in order to decrease stigma. They do take some of those opportunities through the unique roles and representations of Dr. Diana Reid, a mother and a genius, and Dr. Spencer Reid, a genius FBI agent. However, they usually resort to negative stereotypes through unsubs as homicidal maniacs (Pirkis et al., 2006), Dr. Spencer Reid’s reaction to possibly having schizophrenia, and Dr. Diana Reid’s as a victim (Pirkis et al., 2006). In conclusion, Criminal Minds may have made some steps toward a more positive representation of schizophrenia, but they have a long way to go before they can have an open conversation about the truth behind schizophrenia and mental illness in general.



 Davis, J. (Writer). (2005, September 22). Criminal Minds [Television series]. CBS.

–          Episode 1.09 “Derailed”

–          Episode 1.17 “A Real Rain”

–          Episode 2.14 “The Great Game”

–          Episode 2.15 “Revelations”

–          Episode 4.06 “The Instincts”

–          Episode 4.07 “Memoriam”

–          Episode 5.07 “The Performer”

–          Episode 6.08 “Reflections of Crime”

–          Episode 6.12 “Corazon”

–          Episode 6.17 “Valhalla”

–          Episode 6.19 “With Friends Like These…”

Feist, G. J. (2012). Psychology: Perspectives & connections. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Harper, S. (2005). Media, madness, and misrepresentation: critical reflections on anti-stigma discourse. European Journal of Communication, 20, 460-483.

Hellojarrad. (2011, June 13). Auditory hallucinations – An audio representation. YouTube. Retrieved from

Klin, A., & Lemish, D. (2008). Mental disorder stigma in the media: review of studies on production, content, and influences. Journal of Health Communication, 13, 434-449.

Rakker126. (2009, April 19). Criminal Minds – Reid is visiting his mother. YouTube. Retrieved from

Pirkis, J., Blood, R. W., Francis, C., & McCallum, K. (2006). On-screen portrayals of mental illness: extent, nature, and impact. Journal of Health Communication, 11, 523-541.


Die Hard: A Review

I recently viewed the movie Die Hard, a classic film which I have never had the opportunity to view previously. In this movie, the hero, John McClane, goes to visit his wife in Los Angeles. We then discover that John’s relationship with his wife is stressed, so much so that she returned to her maiden name. He attends her company Christmas party, and the party is taken over by a group of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber.  While the rest of the partygoers are corralled into a main area, McClane sneaks away from the group. Though the police think that the hostages were taken in exchange for the release of terrorist prisoners around the world, McClane realizes that the terrorists are really after the vast amount of money in the building’s vault. McClane befriends one of the police officers, Officer Powell. Officer Powell was removed from field service after accidentally shooting a child. Throughout McClane’s time in the building, Powell is a source of comfort and morale without which McClane could not have continued fighting. In the end, McClane and his wife end up together and Powell saves both of their lives.

As much hype as this movie gets, I was really disappointed. I felt that aside from the slight side plots of McClane and his wife and Officer Powell, this movie really was a testosterone -driven, gun-filled action flick. There was no shortage of weapons, explosions, and blood. The men ran around chasing each other and shooting endless rounds of bullets at walls, glass, and each other.

My favorite character was Theo, the tech genius for the terrorists. Despite his negative affiliation, he provided a lot of the refreshing comic relief.

As for the necessity of the police chief, I think he was necessary only in the stereotypical nature of the movie. The plot line – a lone hero has to fight off a group of terrorists in order to protect his woman and the characters – the manly rogue who uses guns instead of words, the supportive friend, the intellectual criminal, and the bumbling cops both reflect the stereotypes of many modern action movies. The over-dramatized police deputy was required within the stereotypical standards of the blustering man in charge who is continually outwitted by the hero.

This movie was not of my tastes, and I feel as though I could have gotten the general idea from a ten minute film. It seems to have only become a classic through its ability to fulfill each and every action movie stereotype.

Rating: 1 out of 4 stars


Why Most Mass Murderers are Privileged White Men: Response

I had to read the article Why Most Mass Murderers are Privileged White Men by Hugo Schwyzer. This article seemed to ring very true to me. It’s true that white men seem to be welcomed wherever they go. It’s also true that when a white man commits a murder, people don’t try to attach it to race or ethnicity problems. However, writing this article seems to be an example of inferential racism. The article is trying not to be racist, glossing over the fact that when Seung-Hui Cho and Maj. Nidal Hasan murdered people, it was attributed to cultural norms. It spends most of its time focusing on the white male.

Culturally, I can understand this. One can’t make any sort of negative assumption about almost any group without being seen as racist, ageist, or sexist, but white males are the exception to the rule. In fact, only white males are allowed to be featured in drunk driving commercials because using any other race or gender is considered to be offensive. In today’s society, almost anything can be taken in an offensive manner, and people have to go out of their way to make sure that they don’t even allude to anything offensive.

The article even says that most privileged white men don’t commit mass murder (obviously). So why is it focusing on the few that do? If this article had been written about underprivileged Hispanic women, the media and equality groups would have been up in arms about it, but because it is about privileged white men, it’s ok. I think that’s an example of overt racism. This article is saying it’s culturally acceptable to blame a certain group of people for a problem, as long as it’s privileged white males. I think this is ridiculous.

As a Caucasian individual, I don’t really feel like white privilege happens anymore. As  far as I can tell, people of all races are welcomed equally almost anywhere.This may not be as true as I think it is, but that’s how I feel based on my observations. I really feel as though  almost all races are welcomed everywhere.

I wish the article had used more statistics to show that most mass murderers are privileged white men; I just can’t take what the article says seriously without some quantitative evidence that what it says is true.

Ronald King and Reginald Denny Reaction

I was asked to read the article Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and TV News: Cultural (Re-)Construction of Racism by Jill Dianne Swenson and watch two youtube clips of the footage of both beatings.

The Rodney King beating was when a young black man was beaten by four white police officers . The Reginald Denny beating was when a white truck driver was stopped by four black youth and then beaten. At first glance, these stories seem to be mirror images of each other, but that isn’t true.

Jean Baudrillard’s theory is “hypperreality.” This idea is that the signifier is “more real” than the signified. The Rodney King beating is more real to the viewers than the idea of a corrupt police force or the racism in their lives.  This makes the signifier’s influence over us harder to realize. It also plays with the idea of “telereality” which is the idea that by watching the news, we are doing our civic duty, and that televising the event will bring an end to it.

Hall’s theory says that the way we encode or decode different information changes how we understand and interpret the beatings. In the case of the King beatings, the association of the darkness of the police uniforms, the likeness of King’s name to MLK, and the black and white color of the video gave the assumption that King was a victim of racism. Then, the police officers in question were acquitted.  Then the Denny beating occurred. In light of the King verdict, this was shown as black youth taking savagely taking revenge against the innocent white public because they didn’t get their way.

CSI:NY Reaction

For my FYS, I had to watch an episode of CSI and read an article.

This episode of CSI:NY focused on the shooting of the team leader, Mac Taylor. He was shot when interfering with the armed robbery of a pharmacy. As he confronted the robber, a woman entered the store. He told her to take out her phone and call 911. Instead, she pulled out a gun, shooting Mac and the pharmacist. Mac is still alive and is rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The episode shows the forensics team working around the clock in order to uncover the identity of the murderer as well as Mac’s “encounters” with the team while he is unconscious. Eventually, the team discovers the murderer from some DNA left at the scene. They track her down, and the episode concludes with a dramatic chase through a bus lot, with the team catching the perpetrator and putting her behind bars. Mac also pulls through surgery and returns to the field in six months.

This article, by Cavender and Deutsch, focused on how CSI and its spinoffs add to the moral authority of the policy and encourage the connection between science, police, and the truth. They did research on two seasons of CSI, CSI:NY, and CSI:Miami to look at crime statistics, crime genre, and forensic science. They found that CSI was more diverse when it came to gender and race, and there was a strong emphasis on violent crime, specifically murders. They also discovered that that CSI and like shows emphasized a “police family” where the co-workers were very close and had a good connection. The conclusion was that this show emphasizes the use of forensic science to find truth. The truth is always in the evidence  if one looks hard enough. This adds to the ideology that the police and the criminal justice system are strong, upstanding, moral people who always catch the bad guy in the end.

I both agree and disagree with the article. I feel as though the article is looking at the show in a negative light that is much too generic. It’s true that most of the crime is violent crime, but that is both because violent crime makes for a much more interesting story as well as that the forensics unit would not be called in for anything unimportant. While the article makes both of these points, it does not give as much time to the second point. It also points out that while the show is more racially diverse, racial matters don’t seem to be a problem in the show. I do have a problem with this point. I’ve watched a lot of episodes of CSI and its spinoffs. Race comes into play a lot. The characters that are African American often have to deal with problems due to their race in the show. Although none such issue arose in the episode I was watching, they are there. I don’t know if the writers just didn’t watch enough episodes or didn’t watch the right episodes, but those issues are their. Also, I had an issue with their point about gender roles in the show. They stated that the women are strong characters but are typically more feminine. I just want to point out that most women are feminine. When a woman enters into the workforce, she doesn’t turn into a man. I think it’s important that they show emphasizes that different people with different experiences are able to view problems in different lights. If everyone had the same perspective, no one could ever solve a crime. I also disagree with the article when it states that the show portrays the police in a completely positive light. I think this show, as well as many other crime dramas, give the viewers a very holistic view of the police. In the episode that I watched, it told many stories of the struggles that the police officers deal with behind the scenes. It shows a man that spent too much time at work and not enough time with his wife. It even shows an officer that killed a man out of revenge because the justice system failed him. These are not the calm, cool. collected officers that the article portrays. These are well-rounded people with problems due to their jobs. So far I’ve done a lot of disagreeing with the article. I do agree with it on one major point: science is shown as the tried and true way to find the facts. In the episode, the team used many different modes of technology. The most interesting one to me was the ability to detect someones identity based on the veins in their hands. They also had portable fingerprint databases and eventually solved the crime using DNA from a fingerprint. This shows that science is the way to solve crimes. I do think that it’s a good message. It encourages people that math, science, biology, and chemistry are cool. Kids that are watching it will be more interested in these subjects because they are represented as popular. Anything that can get people interested in math is a good thing in my book.

In the end, I think that watching one episode is not a good way to get a definitive idea of what a show is like. I don’t even think the writers of the article watched enough of the show to get a good representation. If you’re going to write an article about the show, you should watch the whole thing. The show is much more culturally, racially, and gender diverse than the article lets on. The episode we watched portrayed the women as just as strong, tough, and good at their jobs as the men. It also featured a white girl as the perpetrator as well as an old white man in the shorter plot of some armed bank robbers. I think CSI and all its spinoffs do an excellent job of portraying police as real people with real problems from the job. I think it also does an excellent job of integrating diversity into its storylines. CSI is a great show, and it makes science cool. What could be better?