What’s in a Classification

There’s a big difference in funding for diseases of the body vs. diseases of the mind which is why there is an effort afoot for a classification change to one particular “mental health” disease.

Many horrible physical diseases can be readily defined. Cancer, for example is defined as “an abnormal growth of cells.” Detection and diagnosis of such diseases are well understood and there is generally a high level of funding for research on finding cures and new treatments.

This contrasts starkly with mental health diseases that are harder to define, difficult to diagnose, are often underfunded, and have negative stigmas attached to the afflicted. At the top of the worst mental health disease list is Schizophrenia. Just the utterance of the word brings thoughts of multiple personalities or mass shooters, even though Schizophrenia has nothing to do with multiple personalities (that’s a completely separate condition) and a vast majority of Schizophrenics are not violent in any way.

This just drives home the point of how little understanding there is of mental health diseases and the erroneous stigmas that get attached in the process. According to recent reporting in Politico, mental health advocates are attempting to change all that, starting with Schizophrenia.

The advocates are lobbying Congress to potentially reclassify the disease as a brain disorder, the same classification given to diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. They hope such a move will lead to reduced stigma associated with Schizophrenia and, more importantly, increased funding to better treat the disease and possibly find a cure.

The push is tied to a new CDC (Centers for Disease Control) program that will collect data on the prevalence and risk factors for neurological conditions in the United States population. If the mental health advocates can get Schizophrenia included in the study group of conditions, they say it would lead to a greater understanding of the disease as a distinct brain disorder. The issue comes in that the CDC has a limited budget and can only include a finite number of diseases in the study, which has advocates for a variety of brain diseases competing against each other.

Some skeptics contend that even a reclassification would not necessarily lead to less stigma, but proponents point to data suggesting that there are definite underlying neurological conditions leading to the disease and that inclusion in the CDC study is critical to gaining ground in effective diagnosis and treatment. Mental health advocates even point to the fact that, based on current science, if Schizophrenia were a newly discovered disease, it would be classified as a neurological condition or brain disorder, not a mental health issue.

I hope that these efforts are successful as Schizophrenia is a horrible condition affecting millions of Americans. Studies show that those suffering from the disease have a much lower expected lifespan and the death rate among Schizophrenics is four times higher than the general population. Homelessness and incarceration due to the disease are also major issues.

Research, understanding and a cure for Schizophrenia as an ultimate goal would be a tremendous step in the right direction for not only the improved mental health but also general health within our population.