Letter to the editor - What's in a name?

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Should schizophrenia be renamed to help reduce the stigma that surrounds people with the illness? The suggestion continues to spark debate.

There is no question that people living with schizophrenia are still stigmatised. We know that people diagnosed as having schizophrenia die up to 20 years earlier than others in the community and a few years ago schizophrenia was declared the ‘abandoned illness’ by the Schizophrenia Commission in the UK.

Now new research, the largest study to explore renaming the illness, has again highlighted the complexities of damaging stigma associated with diagnoses, particularly schizophrenia. After surveying more than 1600 people, researchers in the UK conclude that ‘..any decisions to rename should be made with caution. ‘However’, they add, ‘…a decision not to rename may overlook an important opportunity to tackle damaging stereotypes…’. 

In Japan, after they changed the name, psychiatrists were almost twice as likely to tell their patients about their diagnosis.  Furthermore, 86 per cent of psychiatrists said it was also easier to talk to their families and discuss the treatments available.

Award winning Australian poet and author, Sandy Jeffs has lived with schizophrenia for thirty-eight years.  She says, somewhat despairingly, that even though mental health is discussed more openly and other mental health conditions become more visible, schizophrenia has retreated further into the shadows. In a recent essay shortlisted for the Gavin Mooney Memorial Essay Competition, she says: ‘One has to be brave to say 'I have schizophrenia''.

What’s needed most is a change of attitude across the community. SANE recently called on the Federal government to put in place a five year national stigma reduction campaign.  During this year’s Schizophrenia Awareness Week (17– 23 May), I again urge the government to support this initiative, so that we can build a fair, decent and prosperous Australia in which we all have a place and contribution to make.

Jack Heath

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