The new fourth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association may define several new psychiatric disorders. Some of these do not sound like varieties of mental illness at all, but rather opinions and attitudes. What would “oppositional defiant disorder,” for example, represent?
Over the past 40 years or so, child advocates have given a good amount of lip service to the view that adults, especially educators, should respect children’s “individual differences.” In theory, this recognizes the fact that every trait is distributed in the general population in a manner represented by the bell-shaped curve. Whether the issue is general intelligence, sociability, optimism, musical aptitude, artistic ability, or mechanical skill (to mention but a few), relatively few people are “gifted” and relatively few people are disadvantaged. Whatever the characteristic, most folks are statistically “normal.” That is, they possess an adequate amount, enough to get by.
As Dr. Allen Frances read through the list of proposed changes to psychiatry’s bible of mental sickness, alarms started ringing in his own mind. “I was surprised,” the renowned U.S. psychiatrist says, “that the proposals managed to be much worse than my most pessimistic expectations.”
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.
PSYCHIATRY is widely considered to be a success, able to treat mental illness using drugs to correct chemical imbalances in the brain. Yet, since the advent of psychiatric drugs, rates of mental illness have shot up and the supposed imbalances, thought to be the cause of mental illness, have been shown not to exist.