Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Breaking Linguistic Chains: The Dangers of Pathologizing Language in Schizophrenia

Breaking Linguistic Chains: The Dangers of Pathologizing Language in Schizophrenia

Patience Johnson-Williams

This paper analyzes the effects of a schizophrenic diagnosis on a person’s relationships and sense of self.  Schizophrenia is widely considered the most devastating mental disorder, and those who receive this diagnosis are often given limited opportunities and a poor prognosis. This analysis aims to answer the following question: How might a pathologizing language in terms of schizophrenia amplify symptoms and reify labels? To address this question, first-hand accounts from individuals who self-disclose their diagnosis on YouTube are incorporated alongside an extensive literary review. Results show that the normative way of diagnosing schizophrenia in Western society may negatively impact individuals’ future lives. The schizophrenic label is often toxic for those who receive it. Further ethnographic work on the consequences of diagnostic labels may serve to encourage mental health professionals to abandon labels for a more inclusive, holistic treatment method.

April 20, 2022 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is a very interesting topic! I would love to read your paper when it is done. This reminds me of some of the topics from Dr. Jung’s anthropological methods class last semester. Specifically one where a researcher outed mentally ill people in a small town in Ireland which caused untold amounts of emotional and mental damage to those in the community.

    Comment by Casey Carter | April 28, 2022 | Reply

    • Casey, you read my mind- that was Scheper-Hughes, and I definitely mention it in the paper! :) it’s interesting because I bought that book after reading and enjoying some of her other work, and I didn’t realize it was so problematic (I still haven’t actually read it). My peer reviewer actually recommended I mention that as an example of what *not* to do in anthropological research with those with schizophrenia.

      Comment by Patience | May 2, 2022 | Reply

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