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Matters of the Mind: starting a conversation about the DSM


For those outside of Australia who have yet to discover The Conversation, you don’t know what you’re missing.

The Conversation is ‘an independent source of analysis, commentary and news from the university and research sector — written by acknowledged experts and delivered directly to the public’.

Or as they declare in their tagline: “academic rigour, journalistic flair”.

This week The Conversation has been publishing an excellent series examining the DSM – the clinician’s bible for diagnosing mental disorders – and the controversy surrounding the forthcoming fifth edition, due to be published in 2013.

Regardless of my own (at times negative) opinion of the DSM and the changes I’ve read about in regards to the fifth edition, given many media organisations still consider mental illness too complicated and sensitive to discuss, I admire The Conversation’s continued dedication to publishing articles dealing with this subject matter.

So far there have been five articles published in this series, which I assume will continue until the end of the week:

Part one: Explainer: what is the DSM and how are mental disorders diagnosed?

For those who don’t know what the DSM is, this is the place to start. An excellent explainer on the diagnostic and statistical manual of psychiatric disorders, and the controversies surrounding it.

“The DSM itself states that the application of its diagnostic criteria requires extensive clinical training and judgement to make appropriate diagnoses. But many clinicians argue that the complexity of patients’ presentations cannot be adequately summarised by these limited diagnostic codes.”

Part two: Forget talking, just fill a script: how modern psychiatry lost its mind

Looking at the DSM and psychiatry from a historical perspective.

“Psychiatric research indicates that things are more complicated than the manual leads us to believe. In reality, many diagnostic categories overlap. Over the years, many new diagnostic categories have been proposed. As a consequence, many individuals now fit several diagnostic labels. Should their different disorders all be treated separately, or at the same time?”

Part three: Strange or just plain weird? Cultural variation in mental illness

A brilliant article on cultural variations of mental illness and how the DSM tries to deal with this aspect of mental health.

“Many non-western cultures recognise states of mind that look like mental illness but which do not fit the categories of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM).

Wacinko is one such illness, found only among the Oglala Lakota people (who are part of the Sioux nation). Wacinko is a state of withdrawn, mute anger, directed at someone else, which may last for years. The Oglala live in the United States, but their culture is not shared with most Americans, and neither is wacinko.”

Part four: Don’t pull your hair out over trichotillomania

An interesting article on Trichotillomania, a psychological disorder where individuals feel the urge to remove their bodily hair, to the point of obvious hair loss, and the difficulty in classifying this disorder.

“But trichotillomania has had trouble finding a suitable “home”. Since its first listing, it has been categorised as an impulse-control disorder not elsewhere classified. Although its inclusion itself was important, this category – which contains everything from pathological gambling to pyromania – is a residual category with limited acceptance and validity.”

Part five: When stuff gets in the way of life: hoarding and the DSM-5

An article looking at the complexities of hoarding; what is it, where does it fit in diagnostic terms and how the DSM-5 will be classifying this condition.

“The DSM-5’s OCRD category brings together a range of complex disorders, such as anxiety, impulsive-compulsive and somatoform, a mental disorder that manifests in physical symptoms; inclusion of hoarding disorder within the OCRD diagnosis recognises its distinctiveness from related disorders.”

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with The Conversation in any way, shape or form. Nor do I endorse the opinions presented in the linked articles. Some I agree with, some I disagree with and one I downright despise on a primal level. I provide them merely because I consider them important articles on the subject of mental health that may be of interest to some of you, my dear readers.


3 thoughts on “Matters of the Mind: starting a conversation about the DSM

  1. I’ve always been interested in the cultural and gender differences in mental health. I have theorized that my BPD diagnosis comes from the fact that I’m a woman and society prefers women that are not angry.


    • Gender differences in mental health would make an excellent article. I can’t recall ever coming across a piece that has discussed this aspect of mental health, which surprises me, as I think there’s a lot that could be said on the subject.

      The cultural variations article is my personal favourite of the series so far. Very interesting reading, and something I didn’t know too much about before hand.


      • From what I’ve noticed in regards to gender men are diagnosed with the “tougher” disorders ie: schizophrenia, antisocial personality and women more with the “softer” disorders ie: mood disorders and the more dependent personalities. Of course these are not exclusive but trends can be seen.


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