The stigma that surrounds mental illness is not only insulting to the roughly one-quarter of the world’s population that has one, it can also negatively impact their willingness to seek help and their recovery.
But perhaps no mental illness is more stigmatized than schizophrenia, a devastating ailment that affects around 1 percent of the general population. The poorly understood condition is characterized by symptoms including delusions, hallucination, abnormal social behavior, paranoia and cognitive impairments.
The term “schizophrenia” itself tends to call to mind split personalities, disturbing imaginary voices and visions, and violent outbursts, according to health advocates including Brian Semple of the British non-profit Rethink Mental Illness.
“Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding around schizophrenia,” he told Medical News Today.
For this reason, Dr. Jim van Os, a psychiatrist at Maastricht University Medical Centre in The Netherlands, is one of a growing number of clinicians calling for updated classifications around schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders as a way to reduce prejudice and misperceptions.
In a paper published in The British Medical Journal on Tuesday, van Os argues that the term “schizophrenia” — which he says may needlessly scare patients by calling to mind a debilitating brain disease — should be removed from the International Classification of Diseases, which is now being revised, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He suggests replacing it with a more neutral, updated label such as “psychosis spectrum disorder.”