Schizophrenic is an outdated word

The last time I heard a medical professional use the word, “schizophrenic,” was while I was having tests done at the pulmonary clinic.  The nice man who administered the tests had worked at our state mental institution more than twenty years ago.

He told me that he had loved his job there and also spoke tenderly about the patients he got to know while he worked there.  He told me a few stories and then he said the word, schizophrenic.   He hadn’t used it in a derogatory manner but it still surprised me.  I didn’t say anything to him because I assumed that it was a commonly used label — back then.

Hollywood still uses the word.  I’m surprised when I hear the word used in movies made within the past decade,  but then lots of things surprise me.

Not everyone has a family member who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, so most people don’t know what it is like to love someone who can be completely and wholly defined with one word.

I think about how I would like it if people called me a fibromyalgic, or a Chronic Fatigueic, or a depressive, the latter label of which some people actually do use.

Illnesses such as diabetes doesn’t bring with it a mound of stigma when someone says, he is a diabetic.   Nobody runs away or gets afraid.  The label diabetic doesn’t define a person the way schizophrenic does.

Another word I think ought to be left for history is schizoid, particularly and especially when it is used by people who are not medical professionals because it is so often used in a derogatory manner.

I put the person first, which is what my cultural anthropology professor/mentor taught me to do.

“People are not their illnesses,” she would say.  “Always put the person first,” she told us.

I would have never imagined that not too far into the future, after my having taken the classes, that my son would be diagnosed with an illness that is not only misunderstood, but is completely and totally stigmatizing.

The label of schizophrenia alone stigmatizes, marginalizes, otherizes, and all the other ‘izes used in cultural anthropology.

The word, schizophrenic, is even worse.

If a person is schizophrenic can he or she be anything else?  Doesn’t it pretty much define a person?

The same goes for, schizoid.  I know psychiatrists use it but personally, I cannot stand the word.

Saying schizophrenic and schizoid takes away the person and leaves nothing for thought except the label, which is the only thing these words are — labels.

I say he or she has schizophrenia, or, he or she has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

It isn’t about being politically correct.  In my mind, it is about being educated and/or thoughtful.

Put the person first.  My son is a human being.  He is an artist.  He is a student of Marshall Arts.  He is a son, a grandson, a nephew, a dog owner, a good friend, a wonderful person, and he is challenged with a thought disorder, the latter of which unfortunately has an ugly name.

First and foremost — he is a person.

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rhino Ariefiansyah on July 6, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Good post. Really like reading it. I am diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia four years ago. Fortunately my family give great support for me. I also meet good psychiatrist and group of peoples who support my recovery journey . Being diagnosed with mental illness is not an easy thing. Here in my country, Indonesia, people with mental illness culturally define as ‘crazy people’. And they threat ‘crazy people’ very bad, they made joke on them and treat some of them even worst. Those who came from poor family are those who suffer most. They life on the streets, people ignore them, mostly life in a bad physical condition.

    For me, one of the hardest part is to deal with my own mind. Self stigma and being victim of the illness are not easy to fight.

    Thanks for writing this lovely article hope someday people will be more friendly to people like us, people who has diagnosed.

    Hope your son find his own recovery path and I believe he will.



    • Hello Rhino,
      I’m glad you read my post. I’m also glad you commented. The culture here seems about the same as you describe it there. People are misinformed and as a result, stigmatize and discriminate against people diagnosed with a mental illness, particularly schizophrenia. One of the comments on this post refers to the word having been, “hi-jacked,” which I agree with. Some people, like those who “joke on them,” are in my mind, either very immature or plain mean.
      I’m glad you have support in your family. My son does not accept his diagnosis. I don’t think this really helps matters. Even if he chose not to accept the label of schizophrenia, I think accepting that there is a challenge to be met is necessary to get on that path of recovery.
      So, it is my hope too that my son eventually finds his, “own recovery path.” Very much, I hope this for him.
      Thank you again for your comment.



  2. You are lovely! My brother diagnosed schizophrenia. After medication he is as wonderful person as before 🙂



    • Hi Bagus Utomo– Glad you found the article. Nice that your brother can take and find relief from the medication. My son is not quite that fortunate at this time, but remains a wonderful person, as always.
      Thanks for your comment.



  3. Well, I’m not sure that people are uneducated. The education that mostly is disseminated today is that a “mental illness” like “schizophrenia” is a brain disease that affects a persons thinking, feeling and re-/acting. That is, it affects the person’s being in the world. Indeed, the alleged illness is said to change the individual’s personality, into, well, “schizophrenic”. Diabetes doesn’t change someone’s personality. No somatic disease does.

    So, in as far as someone identifies as “mentally ill” they’re discriminating against themselves, they’re self-stigmatizing. No matter how often we reiterate the phrase “people are not their illnesses”, as long as we accept main stream psychiatry’s definition of extreme states of consciousness as “mental illness”, as brain disease, the phrase remains a beautiful but nevertheless completely emptied of any meaning one.

    The question is not whether to say “schizophrenic” or “a person with schizophrenia”, but whether we have to label people at all. It’s not the specific label something’s wrong with. It’s the labelling itself.



    • Hi diffthoughts —
      Thanks for reading and thinking about what I wrote. It seems to me there are several issues. I do believe many people are uneducated and what I mean by that is that they never try to learn anything new, they never question what they read and believe anything written on paper. To me that is not learning, so I guess I equate that with being “uneducated.”
      My main point in this post is to put the person first. It is about not defining people by an illness, condition or handicap. Put the person first.
      I agree with some of what you say here. I am however, “sticking to my story,” as my friend says, in that the word, “schizophrenic,” is outdated. We need to change the way we think and one way to do that is through the way we talk about things.
      I believe having language to describe our experiences so we can better understand what is happening when we suffer offers freedom. I also believe mental is physical. I no longer believe we have a mind without a brain. I believe the brain is like any other organ in that it can fail and get diseased.
      The labels we have (in the DSM) to describe a condition we call “a mental illness,” come from one field of medicine only, that being psychiatry, which also needs to change.
      Thanks again for giving me food for thought! Perhaps we will communicate more. It is so refreshing to see your opinions here. Have a very blessed day! ‘kisses.



  4. Posted by myfoggybrain411 on March 11, 2010 at 4:39 AM

    Very good post, as always!



    • myfoggybrain– Hi! Just looking through my comments and wanted to say hi. You are always uplifting. I hope you are doing well! ‘kisses and hugs!



  5. That is a very sweet post. And very true.
    Most people are unfortunately so uneducated. They take for granted what they read in bad thrillers or what the silver screen flashes in their eyes.
    Schizophrenia, or schizophrenic are not so ugly words. The ugly is in the hijacking of them, how it’s been vilified by Hollywood, and even the media — seriously! reading words such as schizophrenic in articles about the financial crisis… that’s beyond me!

    Do you know the BringChange2Mind association? They launched a very cool campaign with Glenn Close.
    Here’s a link:

    My boyfriend was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Having him in my life burnt several bridges with friends and even family. But I never cared a single bit. I was not living with a “schizo”. I was living with Love and we’ve been tremendously happy. Things ended tragically not so long ago. Grief tears me apart, but the flame of that Love I shall cherish always.

    Yes, “people are NOT their illnesses”. The core to stigma resides in the uneducated, fearful, closeted mind. It is sadly but the case for all discriminations.




    • Dom M.D.–
      hi. thanks for reading my post. It was right off the press this morning with my first coffee. I thought later about what I’d written, saying how the word is ugly. You are right about it being the “hijacking,” of the word that is ugly. I have heard and visited the site about BringChange2Mind but have been busy. I will check it out again. I enjoyed a video about it.
      It is so sweet what you said about your boyfriend and yet I see what you said, that it ended tragically. I am very sorry. I hope you are okay. Many blessings to you! ‘kisses.



  6. This is brilliant! Well written! I couldn’t agree with you more. I wish society could understand that a disorder does NOT define a person. It’s frustrates me how people discriminate, I see it all too often. Some think it’s ‘just an excuse’ for my son to misbehave and act differently.
    But, above all – those with schizophrenia (or any other mental illness) are human beings (though they may have a lot stacked against them) & should be seen and treated as such.




    • Victoria– hi and thanks for your compliment. I’m glad you liked it and also that you understand. I’ve heard the “just the excuse,” thing too. Very frustrating. I wish you and your son much luck and many many blessings. ‘kisses.



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