Eliminating the Word "Schizophrenic"

September 17, 2012 Chris Curry

There’s always been a double standard in mental health when it comes to schizophrenia. If you suffer from depression, are you a depressionist? Then why should a person who suffers from schizophrenia be a schizophrenic?

Eliminating the word schizophrenic is the first step in reducing stigma of schizophrenia.

In my work with clients, I focus a lot on the negative words that they use to describe themselves. Our self-talk is what defines us and if we are using negative language in our self-descriptors, it’s obvious how someone can end up with low self-esteem and low self-worth.

The Importance of Self-Descriptors

Describing someone as a schizophrenic takes away all the other things that make them a great person. People who suffer are some of the most interesting and creative and intelligent people I have ever known. I would never dream of describing them with one word.

When I decided to write on the stigma of schizophrenia, I asked myself ‘who are you to talk about what it’s like to live with schizophrenia?’ And it’s true. I don’t suffer from it, so in all reality, I don’t know what it’s like. But I do work with clients who suffer and I definitely know a few things about stigma and I know that it is perhaps the most stigmatized of all the mental illnesses. It is for mental health what AIDS initially was for physical health.

What is it Like to Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Depending on the type of schizophrenia you have, you could suffer from paranoia. This means that when you are walking down the street, you may think that others are talking about you. You could also think that everyone else always has an ulterior motive. In more severe cases, you may even hear the things that your brain has convinced you that others are saying about you.

Although I certainly don’t know what it’s like to have schizophrenia, I do know what it’s like to be paranoid and to hear voices and see things that aren’t actually there. For about three months, I suffered from drug-induced psychosis and the symptoms were very similar to schizophrenia. Since it happened when I was 18 years old, the average age of onset of symptoms, many of my doctors believed that I did in fact have schizophrenia.

But I was lucky enough that my symptoms eventually disappeared, and thankfully, never re-appeared. One out of every hundred people isn’t so lucky.

Schizophrenia and Secrecy

Telling someone, whether a potential employer or a romantic partner, that you suffer from schizophrenia is far more challenging than stating that you suffer from depression, or bipolar disorder. People have so many misconceptions surrounding the illness that it makes perfect sense why many people do not disclose their diagnosis.

But when the illness is properly treated, people with schizophrenia can go on to lead productive and meaningful lives and contribute vastly to the world around them. Think of John Nash, the brilliant mathematician, or Syd Barrett the gloriously talented musician or even Jack Kerouac, one of the most famous authors of the past hundred years.

We need to work hard on the stigma surrounding schizophrenia. And the first step is eliminating the word schizophrenic from our vocabulary.

The Completely in Blue website is here. Chris is also on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

APA Reference
Curry, C. (2012, September 17). Eliminating the Word "Schizophrenic", HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Chris Curry

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[...] = 'wpp-261'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};When I wrote the article ‘Eliminating the Word Schizophrenic’ I stated that schizophrenia was the most stigmatized of all the mental illnesses. Somehow, I forgot [...]

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November, 12 2012 at 1:05 am

[...] Over the years, I’ve often got the impression when I tell someone I suffered from psychosis that they felt as though I could again just lose my mind at a moment’s notice. That I was a ticking time bomb, just waiting to go off. But this could also be due to our natural tendencies to mind read, and self-stigmatize. [...]

October, 11 2012 at 12:28 am

Hello there. I was wondering if I could use that picture in your post for a power point presentation for a social justice class I am taking? Thank you!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Chris Curry
October, 11 2012 at 12:26 pm

Of course! Feel free.

Julie Cochrane
October, 4 2012 at 3:22 pm

I think that one of the options we have, and in some situations might want to consider using, is, "I have a major mental illness." I've used this. If someone asks more or raises an eyebrow or whatever, "It's one of the biggies."
If it's someone I don't want to talk about my medical issues with beyond that, "Bottom line? Disability sucks. Better living through chemistry. Let's change the subject."
Sometimes I have reason to want someone to know I have an "invisible" disability. I want them to know that there's a shiny chemical wheelchair that they don't see. But I don't want to set up a table, hand out leaflets, and do an impromptu lecture "educating the mentally 'normal' community."
I like being able to point out (by just not mentioning it) that it's not their business which mental illness I have or what the details are. It's private medical information just like any other.

Dr Musli Ferati
October, 1 2012 at 9:07 am

Beside others psycho-social embarrasments, shcizophrenia, as chronic psychiatric entity, is overloaded with the sense of shame and guilty as well. These two predicates leads to feeling of low self-esteem finishing with social exception that compromise seriously personal, social and professional carrier of patient who suffer from this psychotic disorder. Indeed, it is its pejorative appointment, which one is incalculated in the mind of public as incurable and frightening mental disease.Therefore, I mean, that the principal deed of up to date social factors is to make a substantial promotion of mental health service in function to eradicate the primitive attitudes on this moody illness.In this direction the modification of our vocabulary, would be of great importance. However, the effort of experts of mental health service to explain the real nature of schizophrenia as brain disturbance, indicates crucial role in softening of prejudices toward this disease. Probably, this simply ascertainment is neglect from clinical psychiatrist in their daily professional activity, which ones are concentrate in medication of their psychiatric patient. Great "Vitium artis"!

Chris Curry
September, 29 2012 at 11:11 pm

Thank you for your comment Kathy. The only thing I would caution is to remember that you are always much, much more than simply 'bipolar' or 'borderline.;

September, 23 2012 at 2:38 pm

I agree with Natasha's comment. I also want to point out that embracing labels -- mine is "bipolar" as well "borderline personality disorder" -- can be empowering. Before I had a precise medical diagnosis, I was suffering through all sorts of incomprehensible moods, thoughts, behaviors, etc. and blaming myself because those things are supposed to be under one's control. Knowing that my disorder was causing them allowed me to actually take charge of them by getting the right medical and therapeutic help. My disorder has been severe and chronic (40 years and counting) with many hospitalizations and drastic interventions -- but getting that label bipolar in my 30s explained so much and relieved some of my guilt -- and most importantly led me to the right treatments. The power of words -- for good as well as ill.

Natasha Tracy
September, 18 2012 at 8:37 pm

Hi Chris,
To answer your question:
I'm not _proud_ of being bipolar any more than I'm _proud_ of being a redhead. I just am. That's it. It's about acceptance of a fact.
As for my nom de plum, it has nothing to do with "pride" it has to do primarily with professional although also personal reasons. I've written quite a bit explaining it. In my real life, most people know I'm bipolar and it's just not a thing.
- Natasha

September, 18 2012 at 5:38 pm

I hear what you are saying. Thanks for being sensitive to people's feelings. That is a cool thing. But I relate more to Natasha's comment. I'm Schizoaffective & a few other disorders but I actually find it is easier for me to get to the meat of what I cope with or what some of my symptoms might be that I am trying to explain, if I just 'use that description. I do get uncomfortable about being judged and things come and go in waves for me as to how well I handle it. But, bottom line... I have decided to stick to the actual terms, just like when I grew up and I was taught the correct names for intimate body parts, instead of 'softer/cutesy' names, that as I got older would end up feeling silly if I didn't learn the proper ones. No offense intended. Just the only example I could think of.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Chris Curry
September, 18 2012 at 6:10 pm

Thank you so much for your comment! Every single person is different and I'm definitely not suggesting that anyone change what works for them. If it works, keep doing it! If it doesn't, then it's time to try something new. Thanks for reading and providing your feedback. It is much appreciated!

Ilene Flannery Wells
September, 18 2012 at 3:56 pm

Please correct something for your readers. 1 out of 100 is not a correct statistic in regards to people who do not recover from schizophrenia. About a third recover fully or have significant recovery, another third have moderate recovery and need moderate supports, and another third have little to no recovery and require intense supports to live in the community.
My twin brother Paul was one of those third that did not recover. He never came out of his drug induced psychosis - not for 32 years. Only death relieved him of his delusions. It is important that the needs of those who do not recover are met, because they are using a disproportionate amount of services due to the failure of current the community mental health delivery system.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Chris Curry
September, 18 2012 at 5:40 pm

I apologize if you took that to mean it that way. I simply meant that one out of every 100 people suffer from schizophrenia. I was stating that I do not in fact suffer from it, but that it can be found in 1 per cent of the population. I know for a fact that recovery is possible and totally attainable and many people recover completely and fully and never have symptoms again. Once again, apologies if you took it that way, but I was simply stating that the illness affects one out of every hundred people.

Ilene Flannery Wells
September, 18 2012 at 1:52 pm

First, I wonder if people who say they are diabetic should say they are a person with Natasha said, it is more of how the words are used, than the actual words themselves. I have tried to say people with...or a person much as possible, but to be honest, saying the mentally ill, instead of people with a mental illness, just fits better sometimes.
Secondly, regarding schizophrenia and recovery, this one out of a hundred who don't recover statement of yours is pure fabrication. With proper treatment many people with schizophrenia do recover, a full thrid fully recover, but many don't, and many need support to live in the community. A full third of the over 2 million people afflicted with schizophrenia have little to no recovery and need intense support to be able to live in the community. My brother was one of them, yet mental health advocacy groups act like everyone can recover fully given the right treatment - that is foolishness and has lead to the homelessness, incarceration and death faced by hundreds of thousands of people with schizophrenia.
Until we plan for the needs of those that do not recover enough to live in the community without intense community supports, we will continue to see the "frequent flyers" in our ER's, jails, and prisons. And they will continue to die, like my brother did, all too young. Stigma busting won't help them.

September, 18 2012 at 12:43 pm

Frankly, I enjoy making fun of my mental illness; humor provides levity. My euphemism for delusional manic episodes: Space Bunny Radio. When the Space Bunnies get too loud, I need to take steps to lower the volume. I don't tell people I "suffer" from anything and I don't think my personhood is in question. I breathe, I eat, I sleep. I engage in a range of activities and behaviors. I simply say I'm Bipolar when relevant and find people respect that ownership and acknowledgement.
Furthermore, as a writer, I'm not down with passive language. That may serve folks who feel insecure, but I'm a direct communicator with good self-esteem. I don't need to distance myself from that piece of me.
We all need to make decisions around labels that give us individual comfort. I'm groovy with my choices.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Chris Curry
September, 18 2012 at 5:42 pm

I wholeheartedly agree that using humour when discussing your own mental health issues can be a positive thing. But unfortunately, not everyone has the confidence and self-esteem that you seem to portray. In my clinical experience at least, I have noticed that high self esteem and schizophrenia are a rare combination. Thank you for the feedback! Great perspective.

September, 18 2012 at 12:24 pm

Woohoo! Go Natasha! I concur.

Natasha Tracy
September, 17 2012 at 9:06 pm

I understand your point, I do. But people with depression are depressives and people with bipolar are bipolars and so on. It's not like there's a double standard with schizophrenia.
As I've said many times, it's just the English language and there's no need to be scared of it. I'm a redhead (you know, kind of). It's OK to be a redhead. There's nothing saying that I'm not a million other things too. One of them just happens to be a redhead. One of them happens to be bipolar.
In short, I don't think we do ourselves any favors by being scared of words; I don't think that makes us look any stronger. I think we stand up and take control over the words, and that is how we overcome them - not by running and hiding and playing political correctness games.
I respect people's desire to want to be called, "a person with bipolar disorder (or what have you)" and that's why I mostly write it that way, but, personally, I see no need for it.
I'm Natasha. I'm bisexual. I'm a redhead. I'm a writer. And I'm bipolar. And I'm OK with that.
- Natasha Tracy

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Chris Curry
September, 18 2012 at 5:58 pm

Thanks for the comment Natasha. I have to say that I do in fact think there is a double standard with schizophrenia. I have never once heard of people with bipolar disorder being called bipolars. I have heard the term depressives, but not nearly as often as I hear schizophrenic. In fact, I heard the term schizophrenic four separate times today, from four different people. I live in Canada, so perhaps it's different in the US but bipolars and depressives are not words that are spoken in my circles at least.
And I have to disagree with your statement about how 'we don't do ourselves any favours by being scared of words,' and 'it's just the English language and there's no need to be scared of it.' Evidence-based approaches on mental illness and addiction, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, The Community Reinforcement Approach, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing all state that describing yourself as your illness is a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy that will impede recovery. I am currently at a three day conference with Dr. Robert Meyers, PhD from the University of New Mexico, and founder of the Community Reinforcement Approach who has worked for 37 years in the mental health field and he spent twenty minutes today talking about the terms that people with mental illness use to describe themselves and how detrimental it is to their recovery.
I write my blog from a somewhat personal perspective, but I also only use evidence-based practises in what I write about.
Please trust me that I do not mean to be disrespectful with this next statement but I think the question begs to be asked: if you are so proud of being bipolar and choose to define yourself as such online, then why do you write under a pen name?

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