A manual of all the different mental disorders people can be diagnosed with. Of questionable utility as psychiatric diagnoses aren't very well defined in general, and what's considered a disorder can sometimes vary by culture.

In oppositional defiant disorder, novalis speculated that (some of) the diagnoses in the DSM might be politically motivated. Political, yes, but also cultural. A history of what is/has been considered mental illness would be a fantastic cultural history of the United States. Consider the classification of homosexuality (or any alter sexuality) as a disease (this has been removed from the book in recent versions), or the (relatively) recent explosion of children's behaviors (such as oppositional defiant disorder, but also certain cases of ADD, childhood depression, etc.) Culturally, children are a very problematic group right now. Their struggles to live in a world (or worlds) with conflicting messages and structures are biologized and pathologized because this moves it into the realm of science and experts, and out of the realm of human interaction and responsibility, which is scanty.

This is my opinion, of course, and does not imply that the DSM does not hold valid or useful information. I just believe that there are certain things that would not be best treated as a disease, but as part of either a process toward identity, a struggle with a greater fucked-up society, or an identity in itself.

DSM is an acronym for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (of Mental Disorders), put out by the APA. The methodology of this book stresses the fact that psychology is unlike other sciences, in that it is not a hypothesis-experiment system that tries to determine causality.

It is more like a system of observation and taxonomy. The categorization of mental illness is not derived from anything except the stats and the symptoms. If a certain new type of thinking and behaving differently from everyone else is found, a set of criteria a put forth. Since each criterion has to be satisfied for the diagnosis to be accurate, the DSM is under constant revision. New research data keeps redefining the exact criteria for different illnesses.

The DSM, in addition to being used for clinical, research and education purposes, also functions as a standardize the language used to describe psychopathology. The terms used in the DSM are used across several different organizations, and is recognized as the reference for all mental illness topics.

Version 4 is the latest release.
The history of the DSM is not itself without controversy. Although the details escape me at the moment, it is like any other attempt to define reality.

There are fashions in psychology, psychiatry, psychopathology, neuropharmapsychology, or whatever else is current. In recent years, medications have become the rage--such as for social anxiety. The division of the human psyche into smaller and smaller pathological bits should be met with some skepticism.

Instead of multiplying the human psyche by dividing it, we should, somehow, in whatever way we can, be putting it bach together again into whatever whole we can.

See psychiatrist.

The Fourth edition of the encyclopedic Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a reference document used by psychiatric professionals in the United States and worldwide. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM is extremely influential, and is essential to front line diagnostic workers in the psychiatric profession.

An interesting side effect of the huge effort to produce this document is that many "unusual" activities became billable mental disorders, despite the fact that the persons involved may be happy and well adjusted. Some truly vague definitions were included in the DSM. Here are some of the more interesting nodes in the DSM (see if you have a mental disorder, according to the APA):
  • 305.9 Caffeine Intoxication
  • 292.89 Cannabis Intoxication
  • 292.89 Caffeine-Induced Sleep Disorder
  • 299.80 Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified
  • 303 Alcohol Intoxication
  • 291.8 Alcohol-Induced Sleep Disorder
  • 301.83 Borderline Personality Disorder
  • 302.71 Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
  • 347 Narcolepsy
  • V62.89 Religious or Spiritual Problem
  • 300.9 Unspecified Mental Disorder (nonpsychotic)
The most trenchant critics of the DSM have complained that the DSM has defined being alive as a mental disorder, and cheapened psychiatry by reducing it to a taxonometric activity of describing the patient not as a human being but as a series of DSM derived billing codes.

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