Inside the Battle to Define Mental Illness

Posted on Wed 05 January 2011 in Dispatches • 1 min read

This Wired article by Gary Greenberg is a fascinating look into the controversy surrounding the DSM-5, the latest proposed revision to the standardized system that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental illnesses. The article does a good job explaining that the significance of this revision, not just for psychiatric professionals, but will also have an even wider impact as it will also affect how the legal system recognizes mental illness, as well as how insurance companies determine what types of treatment to cover.

One of the surprises within this controversy is one of the biggest opponents to the proposed revisions is Allen Frances, who was the lead editor of the current edition of the DSM, and who feels that there were serious errors in the current edition and that the new edition will only compound those errors, and will “take psychiatry off a cliff.”

From the article:

“We made mistakes that had terrible consequences,” he says. Diagnoses of autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder skyrocketed, and Frances thinks his manual inadvertently facilitated these epidemics—and, in the bargain, fostered an increasing tendency to chalk up life’s difficulties to mental illness and then treat them with psychiatric drugs.

The article seems a little bit biased towards Frances’ point of view, but it does present some of the arguments for proceeding with the revision as well, including the need to incorporate recent research into the clinical process. It’s well worth a read.