Millions of people, including shy or defiant children, may be wrongly labeled mentally ill according to an upcoming revision of the influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Many experts are calling new categories in the book “silly” at best. At worst, they are “worrying and dangerous,” categorizing people who are grieving or who have unconventional romantic lives as having mental disorders.
The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is considered the diagnostic “bible” for mental health medicine internationally. The main concern is that certain diagnoses risk diminishing the seriousness of mental illness and put a medical label on behaviors that most people would consider normal or even just mildly eccentric. Conditions such as “apathy syndrome” or “oppositional defiant disorder” are raising widespread concerns. More than 11,000 health professionals have already signed a petition asking that the fifth edition of the DSM be halted in its development and rethought.
The new DSM could also give serial rapists and sex abusers labels like “paraphilic coercive disorder,” which is troublesome as it may give them an opportunity to avoid prison by providing what could be seen as a medical excuse for their behavior.
David Pilgrim of Britain’s University of Central Lancashire made the point that it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that DSM-5 will help the interests of the drug companies. “Madness and misery exist, but they come in many shapes and sizes,” he tells Reuters. “We risk treating the experience and conduct of people as if they are botanical specimens waiting to be identified and categorized in rigid boxes.”
In previous editions of the DSM, people who had normal human reactions like suffering low moods after losing a loved one would not have been thought to have a depressive illness. In the new version, a child who says “no” too many times would be diagnosed with “oppositional defiant disorder” for performing “deliberate actions to annoy others.”
Other problematic diagnoses for experts include “gambling disorder” and “internet addiction disorder.”
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