For decades, the label “schizophrenia” has been the clinical term used to describe a particular classification of psychosis. For people without schizophrenia, and for those living with it, the term denotes a negative connotation and has a significant stigma attached to it, suggesting discrimination, labeling, isolation, social rejection, and power imbalance. To overcome this, discussions have emerged about whether or not to change the term “schizophrenia” to something that would be less stigmatizing.
Numerous suggestions have been made, but it appears the most accepted candidate is the term “salience syndrome.” The majority of experts in the scientific community agree that salience, which describes the internal process of reacting to and processing of stimuli, most closely describes the actual experience of individuals with schizophrenia. However, the clients themselves have yet to weigh in on this topic. As they are the ones to whom the label is assigned, and they themselves experience both external stigmatization and the effects of self-stigma, Constantin Tranulis of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Montreal in Canada wanted to assess their opinions on the topic.
Tranulis surveyed 161 college students and 19 clients who were in the early stages of psychosis and asked them about the acceptability, validity, and impact of both diagnostic terms. The college students did not seem to prefer one term over the other. Tranulis found that the college students already had preconceived beliefs about the stigmatizing characteristics of the illness, including social rejection and discrimination, regardless of what name was assigned to it. The only difference in opinion was found in the psychology students, who had a slight preference for salience syndrome when compared to biology students. However, when Tranulis surveyed the clients, the results were quite different. The individuals with psychosis favored “salience syndrome” over “schizophrenia” almost unanimously.
The largest reason for their selection was that the name change could prevent them from experiencing the stigmatization associated with the well-known term of schizophrenia. But they also were concerned that eventually people would become aware that salience syndrome and schizophrenia were one in the same, and in time people with salience syndrome would be subjected to the same negative social behaviors. But perhaps the most important finding was that the clients felt less self-stigma with the term salience syndrome. In sum, the participants had varying views on label selection, but people who live with the ramifications of stigma seemed most sensitive to the options. Tranulis added, “Future studies with larger samples are warranted in order to clarify the role of labels on self-stigmatizing attitudes.”
Tranulis, C., Lecomte, T., El-Khoury, B., Lavarenne, A., Brodeur-Côté, D. (2013). Changing the name of schizophrenia: Patient perspectives and implications for DSM-V. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55998. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055998
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