Spend just a few minutes watching prime time television with its endless pageant of commercials for antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds and you start to wonder if USA really means the United States of Affliction. Such “direct to consumer” drug advertising ties into one of the most far-reaching criticisms in revising the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders…
Proposed changes to the U.S. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) could include reclassifying childhood temper tantrums, teenage angst, and binge eating as psychiatric disorders. If accepted, the proposals could equal billions of dollars in new revenue for pharmaceutical companies.
By the mid-to-late-1960s, however, schizophrenia was a diagnosis disproportionately applied to the hospital’s growing population of African-American men from urban Detroit. Perhaps the most shocking evidence I uncovered was that hospital charts “diagnosed” these African American men in part because of their symptoms, but also because of their connections to the civil rights movement. Many of the men were sent to Ionia after convictions for crimes that ranged from armed robbery to participation in civil-rights protests, to property destruction during periods of civil unrest, such as the Detroit riots of 1968. Charts stressed how hallucinations and delusions rendered these men as threats, not only to other patients, but also to clinicians, ward attendants, and to society itself.
Since 1950, man has landed on the moon, made computers commonplace and harnessed nuclear power. We’re obviously using our minds to the fullest. Yet the number of ways we can go officially crazy has nearly tripled. The hugely influential reference book used by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals the world over to diagnose mental illness — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — currently lists 357 types of psychiatric afflictions, up from 128 when the first volume was published in 1952.