No other major branch of medicine has such a single text, with so much power over people’s lives. And that is worrying. Because in no other branch of medicine is the scientific reality underpinning the pronouncements of doctors so uncertain.
In 1952, the first hydrogen bomb was detonated and the American Psychiatric Association, APA, published its first book of mental illnesses: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM.
No one, then, could have imagined that this seemingly innocuous manual would be more destructive, and result in producing more victims, than a nuclear weapon.
Since then the DSM has mushroomed and with each revised DSM untold millions carry the scars from its devastating effects.
Towards the end of May, the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the iconic bible of psychiatry, is coming off the presses after much revision and delay. It’s bound to keep people asking, “Am I normal or do I have a mental illness?”
If you think most diseases are established with objective criteria and rigorous debate, you’d be somewhat wrong. The DSM has a strong track record of taking clusters of symptoms and wrapping labels around them, which lead to the accelerated use of some of the most toxic medications on the planet. How does this happen?
This is a crucial issue. As the Saybrook psychology faculty note in their remarkable blog “The New Existentialists:” “the DSM-5 inflates diagnostic criteria to such an extent that it pathologizes normal behavior and natural human functioning.”
Under this new “Bible of Psychiatry” every aspect of human life, every thought and feeling, can be considered a form of “mental illness” and treated with drugs. An egregious example is a proposed change that would make any depression about the death of a loved one that lasts longer than two months a mental illness treatable by anti-depressants.
This is madness. Millions of people who are perfectly healthy, who are not sick but are looking for help, will be forcibly turned into customers for the pharmaceutical industry. Psychologists are being encouraged to spend less and less time actually talking with those they are seeking to help, getting to know them as human beings, and taking their search for meaning in life seriously.
“LABEL jars, not people” and “stop medicalising the normal symptoms of life” read placards, as hundreds of protesters – including former patients, academics and doctors – gathered to lobby the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) annual meeting.
The demonstration aimed to highlight the harm the protesters believe psychiatry is perpetrating in the name of healing. One concern is that while psychiatric medications are more widely prescribed than almost any drugs in history, they often don’t work well and have debilitating side effects. Psychiatry also professes to respect human rights, while regularly treating people against their will. Finally, psychiatry keeps expanding its list of disorders without solid scientific justification.