When is Schizophrenia not Schizophrenia?

Jim van OsThe problem with using neologisms as arcane technical terms is that they eventually get old, common, and the hoi polloi start using (or misusing) them. So the illuminati have to come up with newer, even more arcane terminology in order to maintain their edge (and perhaps reflect a bit of what they have learned recently as well). Unfortunately, it seems that whenever we switch from one technical term to another, the new one is almost invariably longer, and less susceptible to being converted into adjectival form than the old one.

So it may be going with the the venerable “schizophrenia.” First used in 1911 by Eugen Bleuler (essentially to rename Emil Kraepelin’s 1887 “dementia praecox”), “schizophrenia” has had its share of ups and down, having been, over the decades, gradually split up into a number of adjectivally-denoted subcategories (e.g., paranoid, catatonic, disorganized), and diluted into a variety of less severe conditions (e.g., schizotypal, schizoid). Worst of all, of course, the term continues to be conflated in the public mind with split personality, another term which has gone the way of multiple neologistic revolutions. (As it turns out, psychologists and psychiatrists themselves played a significant role in this confusion. See McNally, 2007.)

Now, an editorial by the Maastricht (Netherlands) psychiatrist Jim van Os in the British Journal of Psychiatry proposes doing away with the old term and replacing it with the formidable “salience dysregulation syndrome” (soon to be “SDS,” or perhaps “SalDysSyn”(?), to avoid confusion with the American radical student group of the 1960s). Van Os criticizes both the validity and the utility of “schizophrenia,” with particular emphasis on the fact that the old name conveys a singular condition whereas, in fact, it appears to be a collection of various disorders — a syndrome.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for the tip

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

2 thoughts on “When is Schizophrenia not Schizophrenia?

  1. The debate over terminology seems to be overshadowing the reality of the disease for the ones living with it. Whatever term ends up being favoured will almost certainly degenerate into a “catch-all” category for patients who can’t be neatly pigeonholed into one of the other diagnostic categories.

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