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(Re)naming schizofrenia: main sources

“One of the biggest prejudices about schizophrenia is in the name itself,” was a schizophrenia patient’s response when I asked him for any prejudices and misunderstandings he encountered when informing strangers about his syndrome. ”It’s the thought that having schizophrenia means having a split or double personality, which isn’t the case at all. But it is what the name suggests,” I just looked at him quizically then, ashamed to admit to myself that ever before starting my research for this month’s issue, I had thought the exact same thing. Fortunately, he didn’t notice my sudden blush and continued explaining instead. “The name schizophrenia is composed out of two Greek words: ‘Schizo’ meaning split and ‘phrene’ meaning mind. However it shouldn’t be taken this literally. The term was meant to refer to ‘splitting of mental functions’ because the syndrome is basically the malfunctioning of the mind in certain ways.” I must admit, after my shame was mostly gone, I didn’t really think about this striking prejudice anymore. But when I continued my research about schizofrenia online, my attention was captured by certain articles that reminded me of the patient’s words and stirred an interest in me. It’s then that I decided to specify my research to the names of schizofrenia throughout the years. It turns out that schizofrenia wasn’t the first name to be given to the psychological syndrome. When Dr. Emile Kraepelin discovered it in 1887, he gave it the name ‘dementia praecox’, which is Latin for early dementia. He chose this term due to one of the symptoms of schizophrenia being memory loss, which he recognised in the adolescents his research was focused on. Needless to say, this term was a too quickly drawn conclusion. It isn’t for no reason that it was replaced by the term schizophrenia later on: by then it had been discovered that memory loss does not always occur in schizophrenia patients and that there are many more symptoms to it. It was Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler who in 1911 changed the name to schizophrenia because by then it was clear the previous name given was obviously misleading. He was also the first to separate its symptoms into positive and negative ones. He meant for the name to describe the fragmented thinking of patients rather than the idea of having a split personality, which is the way the public understood this term. As the definition of the syndrom changed over the years, the name and with that the public’s misunderstanding, remained an accepted term not just by the people who didn’t know any better but also by the experts, who you’d expect to be aware of the misleading character of the term. However, a couple of years ago something changed in the general attitude towards the term schizophrenia. A growing amount of complaints rose, mainly from patients and people working in or related to the psychiatric field, about the negative stigma the name holds. For the first time, the idea to give a new, less stigmatising name to the syndrome was put forward. One of the main leading forces behind this issue was Anoiksis, a Dutch foundation for and by people with a sensitivity for psychoses, amongst whom many schizophrenia patients. As stated on their website, people were done with having to explain every single time that they did not have a split personality, and that having a susceptibility for pychoses was not the same as being the ilness. After all, it is often said someone in schizophrenic rather than they have schizophrenia, which bothers many patients. In response to these negative ideas triggered by the term and wanting for the media to present a more realistic image of the syndrom, Anoiksis set up a contest. A few hundred people from the Netherlands but also from abroad sent in their ideas for new names, confirming this way that the want for schizophrenia to be renamed was big.

The big winner of the competition was Dysfunctional Perception Syndrome or DPS, in which “dysfunctional perception” refers to the selecting and integrating of the many stimuli from inside and outside by the brain, being disordered during the psychosis. The word “syndrome” means that it is a collection of various symptoms. This name was picked by the jury but wasn’t considered the ideal name by them because it does not cover the syndrome entirely. Things such as difficulties in making fluent social contact and thinking clearly aren’t considered in this term. The name they did ultimately approve was “Psychoses Susceptibilty Syndrome” or PSS, which they think does describe schizophrenia really well. This name hasn’t been officially accepted yet, because the question remains whether changing the name would be enough to remove the stigma. After all, wouldn’t the same stigma just be connected to the new name, now? For the name change to be a success, it would need to be accompanied by sufficient information. But despite the new name not having been the success they had hoped it to become just yet, it has certainly stirred discussion and raised some awareness. Since the internet is now full of opinion columns and articles about whether or not a name change would make sense, I figure we can say that the issue of the wrong stigma has at least been brought under attention.

Renaming schizofrenia