Mental illness is not a joke

Dear Editor,

It is with some dismay that I read Nick Davies' recent opinion piece, "Collective schizophrenia and the ultimate acid test," Question columns, Jan. 19. There are two distinct problems with his characterization of past council decisions as "schizophrenic."

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First, schizophrenia is a no-fault brain disorder - a medical condition. Casual use of this medical term as a way of insulting or criticizing a group of people is hurtful, perpetuating the stigma that prevents so many from seeking help for mental illnesses. Mental illnesses are illnesses, only different from heart disease, multiple sclerosis and diabetes in that the organ affected is the brain. Would other illnesses be used in a column so casually and with such disrespect?

The second problem is that a split personality, which was what Davies was referring to, is not a symptom of schizophrenia. This is a common myth, appearing in many television shows and movies for dramatic impact.

Many news organizations have updated their style guidelines over the past decade to eliminate the use of the words "schizophrenia" and "schizophrenic" to mean conflicted or split. It is understood that this language is harmful and offensive to the people who have this illness and their families and friends. People with mental illnesses deserve better.

Cheryl Olney

Executive Director, North Shore Schizophrenia Society

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