The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is considered the bible of psychiatry. It is the guide we use in the mental health field to help us diagnose clients and this May, the newest version of the DSM, version five, is slated to be released, but not without much controversy.
The DSM is considered a research standard worldwide, yet, outside of the United States it is rarely used. Still, what is in the DSM is of international concern because trends in diagnosing in the United States (i.e., attention deficit disorder, autism) tend to spread worldwide especially in many European countries, China, Japan and Brazil.
Much of the criticism about the DSM comes from both the way illnesses are categorized and the ever expanding criteria for mental illness that basically makes everyday life issues a diagnosis.
Other criticisms include weak scientific support and poor reliability in some of the DSM-V field trials, which leave some to believe that it will lose its role as the international standard for research journals.
One of the real dangers if the DSM-V is really that severely flawed is that all of the mental health field will also become tainted, with people not trusting those who are trusted to test, diagnose and help people in need.
With the DSM-V, we also put ourselves at more risk of mis-diagnosing, over-diagnosing and over-medicating individuals.
Some say that the changes to disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder can include almost everyone, as well as a proposed new diagnoses called Somatic Symptom Disorder which will be diagnosed to any patient who has “excessive and disproportionate thoughts, feelings and behaviors” in relationship to an illness, which includes chronic pain and cancer. How much worry constitutes “excessive” worrying. Who wouldn’t be worried when they are dealing with a painful, chronic, potentially debilitating or life threatening illness?
Some believe that much of the flaws in the DSM period are because disorders are placed in discrete categories such as Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, instead of “dimensionality” in which mental illnesses may overlap and people may be placed on one of several spectra such as the proposed Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Most clients I see have a combination of symptoms, some which do not meet complete criteria for one specific diagnosis, but can meet several others and present differently at different periods, which is why I may see a client who has received three different diagnosis over the same number of years.
However, most in the mental health field prefer for mental disorders to continue to be categories as they already are which is one reason dimensionality won’t likely be introduced into the DSM anytime soon even in the face of growing evidence that disorders are more fluid and less rigid than previously thought.
It would take more research and funding into dimensionality for it to truly be accepted, but much of that research and funding is already put into confirming the categorization of mental disorders the way they already are.
Basically, people don’t really want change. Much of the mental health field, drug and insurance companies, like the rigidity of the DSM even though it is clear that it is failing many people.
Even patient groups and charities prefer the rigidity of the DSM because it highlights their disorder and keeps it visible. They do not want to see schizophrenia or bipolar disorder re-labeled into a spectrum just as Aspergers Disorder is slated to be dissolved into the autistic spectrum disorders.
On top of that health-insurance in the United States pay for treatment based on current DSM diagnosis. As a matter of fact, that is one of the most frustrating things about dealing with insurances.
In order to get paid for my services, they want a diagnosis almost immediately, usually after the first session or two of me meeting a client. Sometimes a DSM diagnosis is obvious, other times it is not and more time with the client is needed, but insurance companies won’t pay for that unless you diagnose them with something first. Insurance companies are probably the last ones who want to see the DSM categories dissolved.
According to Dr. Allen Francis, former chair of the DSM IV task force, the ten worse changes to the DSM-V are:
1) Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: DSM 5 will turn temper tantrums into a mental disorder- a puzzling decision based on the work of only one research group. We have no idea whatever how this untested new diagnosis will play out in real life practice settings, but my fear is that it will exacerbate, not relieve, the already excessive and inappropriate use of medication in young children. During the past two decades, child psychiatry has already provoked three fads- a tripling of Attention Deficit Disorder, a more than twenty-times increase in Autistic Disorder, and a forty-times increase in childhood Bipolar Disorder. The field should have felt chastened by this sorry track record and should engage itself now in the crucial task of educating practitioners and the public about the difficulty of accurately diagnosing children and the risks of over- medicating them. DSM 5 should not be adding a new disorder likely to result in a new fad and even more inappropriate medication use in vulnerable children.
2) Normal grief will become Major Depressive Disorder, thus medicalizing and trivializing our expectable and necessary emotional reactions to the loss of a loved one and substituting pills and superficial medical rituals for the deep consolations of family, friends, religion, and the resiliency that comes with time and the acceptance of the limitations of life.
3) The everyday forgetting characteristic of old age will now be misdiagnosed as Minor Neurocognitive Disorder, creating a huge false positive population of people who are not at special risk for dementia. Since there is no effective treatment for this ‘condition’ (or for dementia), the label provides absolutely no benefit (while creating great anxiety) even for those at true risk for later developing dementia. It is a dead loss for the many who will be mislabeled.
4) DSM 5 will likely trigger a fad of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder leading to widespread misuse of stimulant drugs for performance enhancement and recreation and contributing to the already large illegal secondary market in diverted prescription drugs.
5) Excessive eating 12 times in 3 months is no longer just a manifestation of gluttony and the easy availability of really great tasting food. DSM 5 has instead turned it into a psychiatric illness called Binge Eating Disorder.
6) The changes in the DSM 5 definition of Autism will result in lowered rates- 10% according to estimates by the DSM 5 work group, perhaps 50% according to outside research groups. This reduction can be seen as beneficial in the sense that the diagnosis of Autism will be more accurate and specific- but advocates understandably fear a disruption in needed school services. Here the DSM 5 problem is not so much a bad decision, but the misleading promises that it will have no impact on rates of disorder or of service delivery. School services should be tied more to educational need, less to a controversial psychiatric diagnosis created for clinical (not educational) purposes and whose rate is so sensitive to small changes in definition and assessment.
7) First time substance abusers will be lumped in definitionally in with hard core addicts despite their very different treatment needs and prognosis and the stigma this will cause.
8) DSM 5 has created a slippery slope by introducing the concept of Behavioral Addictions that eventually can spread to make a mental disorder of everything we like to do a lot. Watch out for careless overdiagnosis of internet and sex addiction and the development of lucrative treatment programs to exploit these new markets.
9) DSM 5 obscures the already fuzzy boundary been Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the worries of everyday life. Small changes in definition can create millions of anxious new ‘patients’ and expand the already widespread practice of inappropriately prescribing addicting anti-anxiety medications.
10) DSM 5 has opened the gate even further to the already existing problem of misdiagnosis of PTSD in forensic settings.
DSM 5 has dropped its pretension to being a paradigm shift in psychiatric diagnosis and instead (in a dramatic 180 degree turn) now makes the equally misleading claim that it is a conservative document that will have minimal impact on the rates of psychiatric diagnosis and in the consequent provision of inappropriate treatment. This is an untenable claim that DSM 5 cannot possibly support because, for completely unfathomable reasons, it never took the simple and inexpensive step of actually studying the impact of DSM on rates in real world settings.
Even with much of it’s flaws and criticisms, the DSM-V is likely to be the best guide for diagnosing mental disorders that we have had thus far. We can only hope that with further research and funding, the next revision of the DSM will be better and more forward thinking.