Convention eyes mental illness stigma

Recent retranslation of schizophrenia seen as step in the right direction


YOKOHAMA — Mental health experts at an international convention of psychiatry here on Sunday stressed the need to eliminate the stigma attached to and discrimination faced by people with schizophrenia and their families.

During the second day of the 12th World Convention of Psychiatry, Dr. Yuki Nishimura discussed a recent change in the Japanese translation of the illness.

The Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology, which is co-organizing the six-day international convention, has reconsidered the use of the term “seishin bunretsu byo,” the long-standing translation of schizophrenia.

The term, when written in kanji, or Chinese characters, means “split-mind disease.” The negative and inaccurate images associated with the translation — such as schizophrenics being likely to commit crimes or having no prospect of recovery — has put patients and their families at a significant social disadvantage, Nishimura said.

A survey of doctors has also found that only about 55 percent of schizophrenia patients are told of their diagnosis, Nishimura said.

This suggests that, presumably because of stigma, many doctors refrain from telling the truth to patients, failing to meet their “informed consent” duty.

In January, the academic society picked “togo shitcho sho,” roughly meaning “integration disorder syndrome,” as the new translation of schizophrenia, after weighing alternatives.

Kazuyo Nakai of the National Federation of Families with the Mentally Ill in Japan also spoke at the symposium, representing the families’ point of view. Nakai has a daughter who has been suffering from schizophrenia for 20 years.

She said that the change of the term is a positive step toward rectifying the problems of stigma toward patients and their families, but it is only “a half-measure,” she said. She expressed hope that the new term, while not perfect, will help break down the stigma and discrimination.

Doctors from South Korea and China also cited various social patterns of stigma felt by schizophrenics in their countries. Both countries use the same Chinese characters as the “seishin bunretsu byo” in Japan when describing the illness, giving people the wrong idea that patients are incurable and dangerous to society, the researchers said.