A New Name for Schizophrenia?
“Schizophrenia” means “split mind,” which is scientifically incorrect.
Posted Sep 30, 2018
When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, I was certain that my diagnosis was incorrect. I thought schizophrenia was an emotional disease, or an experience. I thought that people with schizophrenia were weak and eccentric.
But when it comes to having or not having “schizophrenia,” maybe I was partly right.
The term schizophrenia comes from Greek roots. “Schizo” means “split” and “phrenia” means “mind.” This name was coined by a physician named Eugene Bleuler in 1908. Prior to 1908, it was called dementia praecox.
Today, the medical community recognizes that schizophrenia is not associated with a split mind. Rather, it involves a decreased ability to know what is real, often called a “break from reality.”
When I was growing up, I never heard of a “tsunami,” as tsunamis used to be called tidal waves. The name was changed in the 1990s, long after scientists realized that tsunamis were not always associated with the tides.
Over the years, names for illnesses and medical conditions have also changed.
In 2007, the diagnosis “mentally retarded and developmentally disabled” (MRDD) became “intellectually and developmentally disabled” (IDD) or simply “developmentally disabled” in many states, and in countries worldwide (Prabhala, 2007). It is amazing how much this name change has improved the lives of people with developmental disabilities. It has reduced stigma and given developmentally disabled people more dignity.
Manic-depressive disorder is now called bipolar disorder. Multiple personality disorder recently was renamed Identity Dissociative Disorder. Seizures, which once were called mental illness, are now considered diseases of the brain.
In Japan, the name for schizophrenia was changed to the English equivalent of “integration disorder” in 2002. Integration disorder refers to a person’s inability to process information about their environment, which may cause them to experience confusion about what is imagined and what is real. Hallucinations and delusions come from the brain’s inability to process information about the five senses.
Since this name change, the number of Japanese people recognizing they have the disease has greatly increased. Today in Japan, patients with “integration disorder” are more likely to consent to, or even seek out treatment. This has also lead to a greater acceptance of people with “integration disorder” in the community, and a reduction in stigma (Sato, 2006).
I especially like the name “integration disorder” because it is representative of the symptoms I used to have. When I developed schizophrenia, it was as though my brain could no longer process stimuli in my environment normally. I heard voices inside of my mind.
I also had problems integrating socially. My desire to be alone wasn’t bad enough to be called an illness until I was about twenty, and I had lost nearly all of my friends. I always thought it was just me, and not a disease. In hindsight, because of schizophrenia, my social integration was abnormal.
Sometimes I wonder: when I was twenty, if doctors had told me I had “integration disorder,” would I have listened?
I don’t know. But I do know I would have been much more likely to recognize I had “integration disorder” than to believe I had “schizophrenia.”
During my second hospitalization, my doctor sat down with me and explained that schizophrenia was a treatable brain disease and there was no shame in having it. It was at that time that I learned the name “schizophrenia” was scientifically wrong.
I wish I had a conversation about what schizophrenia is on the day I was diagnosed, before I discontinued my meds and suffered through a second psychotic break. When I accepted that I had schizophrenia, I complied with medication and treatment. On meds, I rebuilt my life.
I would like to see the diagnosis “schizophrenia” changed to “integration disorder.” But regardless, the most important thing is understanding that schizophrenia is a physical disease of the brain. It is treatable today. There is no shame in having any illness.
Prabhala, Anna (2007). Mental Retardation is No More: New Name is Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality. Retrieved from http://sath.org/index.php?sec=741&id=10130
Sato, Mitsumoto (2006). Renaming schizophrenia: A Japanese Perspective. World Psychiatry, 5(1), 53-55. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472254/