APA approval of DSM-5 is a sad day for psychiatry.
So, here is my list of DSM 5’s ten most potentially harmful changes. I would suggest that clinicians not follow these at all (or, at the very least, use them with extreme caution and attention to their risks); that potential patients be deeply skeptical, especially if the proposed diagnosis is being used as a rationale for prescribing medication for you or for your child; and that payers question whether some of these are suitable for reimbursement. My goal is to minimize the harm that may otherwise be done by unnecessary obedience to unwise and arbitrary DSM 5 decisions.
1) Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: DSM 5 will turn temper tantrums into a mental disorder- a puzzling decision based on the work of only one research group. We have no idea whatever how this untested new diagnosis will play out in real life practice settings, but my fear is that it will exacerbate, not relieve, the already excessive and inappropriate use of medication in young children. During the past two decades, child psychiatry has already provoked three fads- a tripling of Attention DeficitDisorder, a more than twenty-times increase in Autistic Disorder, and a forty-times increase in childhood Bipolar Disorder. The field should have felt chastened by this sorry track record and should engage itself now in the crucial task of educating practitioners and the public about the difficulty of accurately diagnosing children and the risks of over- medicating them. DSM 5 should not be adding a new disorder likely to result in a new fad and even more inappropriate medication use in vulnerable children.
2) Normal grief will become Major Depressive Disorder, thus medicalizing and trivializing our expectable and necessary emotional reactions to the loss of a loved one and substituting pills and superficial medical rituals for the deep consolations of family, friends, religion, and the resiliency that comes with time and the acceptance of the limitations of life.
3) The everyday forgetting characteristic of old age will now be misdiagnosed as Minor Neurocognitive Disorder, creating a huge false positive population of people who are not at special risk for dementia. Since there is no effective treatment for this ‘condition’ (or for dementia), the label provides absolutely no benefit (while creating great anxiety) even for those at true risk for later developing dementia. It is a dead loss for the many who will be mislabeled.
4) DSM 5 will likely trigger a fad of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder leading to widespread misuse of stimulant drugs for performance enhancement and recreation and contributing to the already large illegal secondary market in diverted prescription drugs.
5) Excessive eating 12 times in 3 months is no longer just a manifestation of gluttony and the easy availability of really great tasting food. DSM 5 has instead turned it into a psychiatric illness called Binge EatingDisorder.
6) The changes in the DSM 5 definition of Autism will result in lowered rates- 10% according to estimates by the DSM 5 work group, perhaps 50% according to outside research groups. This reduction can be seen as beneficial in the sense that the diagnosis of Autism will be more accurate and specific- but advocates understandably fear a disruption in needed school services. Here the DSM 5 problem is not so much a bad decision, but the misleading promises that it will have no impact on rates of disorder or of service delivery. School services should be tied more to educational need, less to a controversial psychiatric diagnosis created for clinical (not educational) purposes and whose rate is so sensitive to small changes in definition and assessment.
7) First time substance abusers will be lumped in definitionally in with hard core addicts despite their very different treatment needs and prognosis and the stigma this will cause.
8) DSM 5 has created a slippery slope by introducing the concept of Behavioral Addictions that eventually can spread to make a mental disorder of everything we like to do a lot. Watch out for careless overdiagnosis of internet and sex addiction and the development of lucrative treatment programs to exploit these new markets.
9) DSM 5 obscures the already fuzzy boundary been Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the worries of everyday life. Small changes in definition can create millions of anxious new ‘patients’ and expand the already widespread practice of inappropriately prescribing addicting anti-anxiety medications.
10) DSM 5 has opened the gate even further to the already existing problem of misdiagnosis of PTSD in forensic settings.
DSM 5 has dropped its pretension to being a paradigm shift in psychiatricdiagnosis and instead (in a dramatic 180 degree turn) now makes the equally misleading claim that it is a conservative document that will have minimal impact on the rates of psychiatric diagnosis and in the consequent provision of inappropriate treatment. This is an untenable claim that DSM 5 cannot possibly support because, for completely unfathomable reasons, it never took the simple and inexpensive step of actually studying the impact of DSM on rates in real world settings.
Except for autism, all the DSM 5 changes loosen diagnosis and threaten to turn our current diagnostic inflation into diagnostic hyperinflation. Painful experience with previous DSM’s teaches that if anything in the diagnostic system can be misused and turned into a fad, it will be. Many millions of people with normal grief, gluttony, distractibility, worries, reactions to stress, the temper tantrums of childhood, the forgetting of old age, and ‘behavioral addictions’ will soon be mislabeled as psychiatrically sick and given inappropriate treatment.
People with real psychiatric problems that can be reliably diagnosed and effectively treated are already badly shortchanged. DSM 5 will make this worse by diverting attention and scarce resources away from the really ill and toward people with the everyday problems of life who will be harmed, not helped, when they are mislabeled as mentally ill.
Our patients deserve better, society deserves better, and the mental health professions deserve better. Caring for the mentally ill is a noble and effective profession. But we have to know our limits and stay within them.
DSM 5 violates the most sacred (and most frequently ignored) tenet in medicine- First Do No Harm! That’s why this is such a sad moment.