Mental health experts have called for a new name to be used for the condition schizophrenia as it currently conveys "an image of unreliable, dangerous lunatics".
Writing in the journal Psychological Medicine, Bill George and Aadt Klijn, foreign affairs co-ordinators for Anoiksis, the Dutch association for people with a psychotic vulnerability, propose psychosis susceptibility syndrome as a name that can reduce prejudices and attached stigmas.
Term does more harm than good
The suggestion has received positive feedback from many in the sector, with Durham University's Dr Alison Brabban saying that the term schizophrenia "does more harm than good".
"There is no doubt that for many, the diagnosis of schizophrenia can be as debilitating as the associated symptoms," she said.
"It is indisputable that the stigma surrounding the term schizophrenia can in itself lead to misery for many with the diagnosis. Therefore, any label that removes some of these disadvantages would be a welcome change."
Psychosis susceptibility syndrome
The World Health Organization was recently approached with a request to recognise the new name as currently schizophrenia is not recognised either nationally or internationally.
In 2002, the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology renamed the term from Seishin Bunretsu Byo (split mind) to Togo-Shitcho Sho (integration dysregulation syndrome).
However, Anoiksis has chosen the name psychosis susceptibility syndrome for the following reasons:
• Psychosis: because of the unreality of hallucinations and delusions
• Susceptibility: because patients are not necessarily continually psychotic (but it is latent)
• Syndrome: because this word includes the negative and cognitive symptoms also associated with the disease.
'Rebranding schizophrenia solves none of the problems'
However, Professor Richard Bentall, from Liverpool University's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, while agreeing that the term schizophrenia has negative connotations doesn't believe a new name is key to reducing the perception of people with the condition.
"Schizophrenia has been a contested label for many years not only because it is associated with stigma, but also because it fails to achieve any of the purposes for which it was originally designed," he said.
"Rebranding schizophrenia solves none of these problems. By replacing one ill-fitting label with another, we do nothing to advance psychiatric research or to develop better treatment plans for our patients.
"It is not hard to locate some of these causes. Without a doubt, one is the media's treatment of schizophrenia, which consistently over-emphasizes the risk of dangerous behaviour by patients, conveying the impression that people with psychosis are responsible for an epidemic of interpersonal violence. The reality is, of course, quite different. Whereas there is an increased risk of violence associated with psychosis, most of this is attributable to co-morbid substance abuse and most psychiatric patients pose absolutely no risk to their neighbours. "Simple re-labelling will do nothing to address the many scientific and clinical limitations of the categorical approach to diagnosis. To persuade the general public to be more accepting of people with mental illness, we must persuade them that psychosis arises, in part, understandably from adverse life experiences [but] that it does not necessarily lead to violence, and that recovery is possible."