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Mind

New Disputes Over Psychiatry's Manual

The updated DSM-5 continues to stir controversy over how it defines mental illness.

By Kat McGowanJanuary 24, 2014 7:00 PM
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The DSM-5 faces tough scrutiny from critics.

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An updated psychiatric guidebook meant to improve the process of diagnosing mental illnesses makes matters worse, charged critics after the book debuted in May. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is supposed to provide state-of-the-art definitions of psychiatric disorders to guide diagnosis and treatment. The fifth edition of the DSM, known as DSM-5, was 14 years in the works. Like its predecessors, it relies on subjective descriptions of symptoms rather than on data-driven measurements to define mental disorders. But many observers say this system is no longer adequate.

The way we diagnose psychiatric problems is “beyond fixing,” says Temple University psychologist Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association. “It’s time to rethink the whole concept.” National Institutes of Mental Health chief Thomas Insel called for a new, more rigorous era of diagnoses. Particularly contentious changes in DSM-5 include a lower threshold for diagnosing attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and redefining Asperger’s syndrome as a type of autism.

[This article originally appeared in print as "New Disputes Over Psychiatry's Manual."]

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