Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Diagnosis, Dissent and the DSM

By Tim Hannan

The publication of the DSM-5 prompts debates over the science of diagnosing and treating mental illness.

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Last year’s publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) elicited much discussion among mental health professionals, chiefly over whether the changes introduced accorded with the best available scientific research. The debate over evidence in turn opened the door for somewhat less reasoned pronouncements centred on opposition to science-based practice in medicine in general, and to whether diagnoses should be made at all.

This debate continues to rear its head, as seen in last month’s conScience column (AS, Nov 2014, p.38). The author, Dr Gloria Wright, argued that psychiatric taxonomies such as DSM-5 list an ever-increasing number of conditions, and that this now includes what “previous generations may have seen as human dilemmas rather than mental disorders”.

While no specific disorders were named, it was suggested that, in contrast to “genuine mental illness”, new conditions now enable diagnoses to be conferred on non-mentally ill individuals, such as grandmothers with unique personalities and 14-year-old boys with a contrary streak. Wright proposed that “designer labels” have been newly created to serve “big business”, bewailing that children as young as three are given psychotropic medication and that e-health records are “available to almost anyone”.

As I do not share this dystopian...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.