Monday, May 6, 2013

Controversy over the New Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual

Since 1952, the American Psychiatric Association has published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short) which has spelled out the criteria for diagnosing all of the known psychiatric disorders.  It has undergone four editions and two revisions with the fifth one due out this year.  In the past there were controversies such as whether or not homosexuality should be included in the manual and it was dropped from the DSM in the 1970s.  New changes are made to the manual as new information is brought to light and cultural views of what is and what is not a disorder change.

This year the fifth edition of the DSM proposes changes to 13 current diagnoses.  The most controversial of these is Asperger's Syndrome which is being eliminated as a separate diagnosis and is being placed under the  Autism spectrum of disorders.  Unlike the gay community in the 1970s, has deletion been met with resistance by those who have been previously diagnosed with Aspergers.  Other changes have been made to dyslexia, ADHD and other diagnoses.  At least 10 new diagnoses are included in the DSM such as post-traumatic embitterment disorder, skin picking disorder, and compulsive hoarding (maybe the American Psychiatric Association all watches TLC). 

Previously the DSM has been accepted as the Bible of psychiatric diagnosis but, right before the DSM-V comes out the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) has announced that it will not use it as a standard for diagnosis in their research.  This means that they will not be funding studies that use the DSM-V as a diagnostic criteria.   The reason given by the NIMH is that Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure."  This suggests a desire for exactness which the behavioral sciences have lacked relative to the physical sciences sometime termed physics envy.


There have been advances in neuroscience and genetics which shed light on many of these disorders and made many pharmacological treatments possible but the main reliance for diagnosis is still on behavioral symptoms.  The NIMH is creating a Research Domain Criteria for Diagnoses (RDoC) based on biological criteria which it believes are more objective.  The behavioral symptoms are often subject to interpretation and often still not enough is known about the brain and genetics to differentiate between pathologies.  Consider the figure at left.  Is this a rabbit with its head held high or a duck?  This image is subject to interpretation just as all behaviors and incomplete scientific data are.  Science is fundamentally a human endeavor where politics often plays a role.  
  

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