De-Stigmatize Schizophrenia by Changing the Name

By Zachary Siegel 04/10/15

Academics, mental health professionals, and doctors argue that a name change is necessary.

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A recent article that appeared in the academic journal Schizophrenia Research is calling to amend the name of the controversial diagnosis. According to the article's abstract, “The advantages of renaming schizophrenia far outweigh the disadvantages.”

The main advantage cited for a name change is a reduction in stigma that would, in theory, create a culture where people who have the disorder are more likely to seek out treatment. Another plus was that a new name would make it easier for doctors to give a diagnosis, which would convey a more optimistic prognosis.

In an email to The Daily Beast, Antonio Lasalvia, professor of psychiatry at the University of Verona, said, “The literature, from both Eastern and Western countries, consistently shows that the term schizophrenia holds a negative stigmatizing connotation. This negative connotation is a barrier for the recognition of the problem itself, for seeking specialized care, for taking full advantage of specialized care. It is therefore useless and sometimes damaging.”

This is not the first time that the diagnosis has come under fire. In the 1950s, mothers were labeled as “schizogenic” or “refrigerator mothers” meaning that the lack of maternal love and warmth was what caused schizophrenia in her child. It took identifying genetic markers for families and mothers to no longer be blamed for the illness.

The term “schizophrenia,” is itself stigmatizing, according to several doctors. Derived from the Greek for “split-mind,” it was thought that people with schizophrenia had a split or crack in their personality, robbing the individual of a meaningful, unified identity.

Another academic study published last year in the prestigious BJPsych Bulletin had the title, “Schizophrenia is a Dirty Word,” and went on to explore what it was like for someone to receive the diagnosis. The paper concluded that it’s necessary for doctors to be trained in delivering and discussing the diagnosis.

The academic article called for not only a name change but for “parallel changes in legislation, services and the education of professionals and the public.”

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.