Many people, when they begin their studies of any specific topic, like to start by researching the definition of the main term. We’ve spoken in broad terms about what schizophrenia is, but that’s oftentimes not satisfactory for the hardcore knowledge gainer. These people want to start with the very basic, yet scientific or culturally agreed upon definition, and that is probably what we all should do. So let’s explore the definition of schizophrenia in accordance to my favorite dictionary, the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The definition of schizophrenia according to the trusted Merriam-Webster is…
Definition of Schizophrenia
“a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought (as delusions), perception (as hallucinations), and behavior —called also dementia praecox“
So then, the best practice to really gain a comprehension of a definition is to break it down into pieces. Let’s do that starting at the beginning and moving forward to the end.
- “a psychotic disorder characterized…”
First off is that the schizophrenia definition already categorizes this illness as a “psychotic disorder.” So what is that? Psychosis comes from the two Greek roots of ‘psyche’ and ‘-osis’ which refer to the mind and a derangement, respectively. It is then, when referring to the original root words, a derangement of the mind. So what the modern psychological and psychiatric professionals call “psychosis” is a catch-all phrase for an abnormal functioning of the mind, but more specifically an abnormal functioning that induces a loss of contact with external reality.
- “by loss of contact with the environment…”
As mentioned, this is what the broad label of “psychosis” refers to today. So what is a loss of contact with external reality or the environment? This refers to any number of problems revolving around perception and cognition. Problems with perception can mean there is no longer a consensual experience of the external reality, as the person will perceive distortions of sensory input or completely unreal sensory input. Distortions of cognition means that the individual may not be able to think clearly, communicate clearly, or comprehend any sensory input they are receiving from the outside world.
- “by a noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life…”
It is said in the psychological field that a situation is not truly a “problem” until it begins to interfere with your everyday life. That is precisely what this portion of the schizophrenia definition is talking about. When even outside observers can begin to notice a decline in work or school performance and attendance or a withdrawal from social interaction, it is likely that something is going on. When combined with the other symptoms in the definition, we can begin to conclude that schizophrenia may be a possible option.
- “and by disintegration of personality…”
Now this is a peculiar piece of the definition because this is largely an internal experience for the sufferer. The usual enjoyment of hobbies and interests can wane as anhedonia rises. The sense of self will be annihilated as depersonalization and derealization set in. Even a sense of the word “I” can be left meaningless in the face of this expansive or withdrawn consciousness. A person’s place in the world can be confused when delusions and paranoia rear their heads.
- “expressed as disorder of feeling…”
Emotional confusion and instability will occur. A person may begin experiencing feelings that are not appropriate to the situation, such as crying at a funny joke or laughing at something morbid. You may understand that it is not normal, but the feelings well up regardless. Depression, anxiety, mania, loss of motivation, surges of cosmic and supernatural forces, and more… all of these are normal experiences for a person experiencing a disorder of feeling.
- “thought (as delusions)…”
A disorder of thought can mean several things, specifically pointed out here as delusions. Delusions are simply a misperception of reality, the intentions of others, and causality and interconnection. This can lead to conspiratorial beliefs as mundane as government interference, alien intervention. or spiritual warfare. But thought disorders also involve problems with cognition. A person may have trouble concentrating or even communicating coherently to another person. This disorder of thought can be dangerous to oneself or others when a person cannot take care of themselves or perceive others as persecuting them.
- “perception (as hallucinations)…”
A disorder of perception is an alteration of the signals of the senses before they reach the brain, or hallucinations. This means that the sufferer may experience distortions of the external world, such as seeing things that are not there, hearing music or voices that others cannot hear, or feeling sensations on their skin. Smelling odd odors is not uncommon nor is having experiences related to synesthesia, such as seeing certain colors and having a taste associated with them. Or visually seeing sound. Hallucinations can definitely interfere with regular everyday functioning.
- “and behavior —called also dementia praecox…”
Of course, the individual will respond to these new experiences in their world, which will lead to what may seem to others to be strange and random behaviors. The term ‘dementia praecox’ is an archaic label for what we now call ‘schizophrenia’.
Schizophrenia’s Definition Discussed and Concluded
Hopefully this discussion will have satisfied those of analytical and scientific-minded natures. Schizophrenia is not a simple illness, and the attempt to define anything concisely and clearly is always a challenge. The definition is a great starting place to learn about schizophrenia, but it should not be the end, because we have only glossed over mere portions of the true enormity that is schizophrenia. Please read more within Schiz Life and arm yourself with education! Thank you.