Schizophrenia by Any Other Name
He is a husband, a father, an entrepreneur and a writer. He also has schizophrenia. His name is Bill MacPhee. And he is on a mission to change the stigma surrounding schizophrenia.
After being diagnosed with schizophrenia in his twenties, MacPhee completely changed direction in his life – his schizophrenia, while a part of him, is a condition that he effectively manages and is fodder for the greatest creative endeavour of his life – that of the writing, management, and distribution of SZ Magazine, a quarterly publication that is exclusively for people with schizophrenia.
The idea for the magazine struck him while he was in the depths of an almost fatal depression. He has had time to become philosophical about his condition. His work as proved to be the most rewarding of his life. His passion shines through and has netted him several prestigious awards. MacPhee’s next campaign is to change the name of his disorder from schizophrenia to MacPhee Syndrome. Is this the plot of an egotist? Hardly.
MacPhee’s reasoning is sound. Changing the name of the disorder will change the face of the disorder, and hopefully decrease the stigma and discrimination that patients face. In the Globe and Mail article, MacPhee talks about shortening the name of his magazine to “SZ Magazine” as customers spoke of the fearful and negative reactions when neighbours saw the former title, “Schizophrenia Magazine”.
MacPhee’s campaign wouldn’t be setting a precedent. The Toronto Star indicates that, “ Ten years ago, Japan’s Society of Psychiatry and Neurology changed its previous term for the disorder from “mind-split disease,” to a new name that means “integration disorder.”
The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario is also keen to address the issue, though they might have alternate suggestions. Their statement from CEO Mary Alberti reads, “We’re in full agreement (with the debate) because we’ve seen the stigma and experience it on a daily basis. I think a name change would impact the dynamic.”
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects one percent of the population or 270,000 Canadians. There are many theories about what causes the illness, but the most widely accepted is the over-production of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that acts as a link to the messages being sent to brain receptors. Despite its negative stigma, however, most cases are like MacPhee’s. His textbook diagnosis could serve to educate the public that most people who have schizophrenia are like him, normal, productive, non-threatening Canadians, who won’t harm themselves or others.
While change is slow and relies on decisions by committee to alter the canon of texts in the field, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition), the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario states that, “Stigma can lead to discrimination. It limits the amount of resources like housing, employment opportunities, and social interaction for people with schizophrenia. This in turn perpetuates the stereotypes of people living with the illness.” This strong statement makes MacPhee’s campaign to counter public negativity worthwhile.