“While at lunch July 12, 2010, I was reading a local Winnipeg newspaper that I enjoy very much. I read about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL. The sports writer (and previously another sports writer and even the former head coach) have used the term “schizophrenic” when generalizing about how Winnipeg fans act with respect to the football team’s wins and losses (e.g. an up and down, love and hate relationship). A crime writer at the same newspaper has also used the label “schizophrenic” when writing about an individual charged with a crime. I have emailed all of these writers to correct them since it is my moral obligation/duty to fight for those individuals who have mental illnesses who may be currently too sick to defend themselves from labels, stigma, and discrimination.
From my learning during my time at CMHA Winnipeg Region within the Psychological-Social Rehabilitation and Recovery Program, there was a poster that sensitized me to the proper terms to politely use for individuals with mental illnesses. From this poster, it denoted that the label “schizophrenic” is inappropriate and in my view, the label is derogatory. The label “schizophrenic” is derogatory since it generalizes and discriminates. It does so since it assumes that the mental illness governs the entire person when this is clearly not the case. It also creates stigma and it makes recovery harder if we label individuals.
I pose an interesting question: would you label someone with MS a Multiple Sclerosic?
Both are brain illnesses; schizophrenia a neurotransmitter imbalance and negative social experience mental illness with social behavioural positive and negative symptoms, multiple sclerosis a neuron brain illness with demyelization of the neural myelin sheath creating lesions and symptomatic physical pain, and both balance and vision problems.
Thus, to me, there is no place in the human vocabulary for a label such as “schizophrenic”. I communicated this to the local newspaper and they changed the wording to say “fickle”. However, it has left an impression with the general public again since the print version cannot be changed and the online version was read by probably many readers before I caught it at my lunch hour. One reader commented that they liked the reference to “schizophrenic” while another reader commented similar to how I have in terms of inappropriate use.
The “schizophrenic” label use is problematic since the use of labels perpetuates stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness which leads to ignorance amid misconception. This is why Mental Illness Awareness Week is so important: we must educate the general public and health care practitioners about what mental illness stigma and discrimination both are, how to minimize these, and what steps are needed to move from that understanding beyond tolerance to acceptance and finally respect. Those end goals of understanding, tolerance, acceptance, and finally respect are human rights issues.
Schizophrenia is not just a severely debilitating mental illness and I had to actually make this clear in a recent survey by the Schizophrenia Society of Canada upon how they should focus their public awareness efforts. Schizophrenia provides the very strong gift of creativity to the individual. This is a very unique ability that those individuals without schizophrenia do not have as strongly since the person with schizophrenia can often see patterns and make neural connections that others do not see or hear. Therefore, schizophrenia is both a disability and an ability. It all depends upon our point of view.”
- David Albert Newman