What’s Really Wrong with DSM-5

By Liah Greenfeld

The essence of the DSM-5 consists in the modifications it introduces in the extensive psychiatric nosology, specifically adding diagnostic categories to diseases of unknown biological origin and uncertain etiology. But the real problem lies much deeper – in the understanding of such diseases itself. It is the problem with the old, fundamental, and universally accepted diagnostic categories of thought disorder- vs. affective disorders, or schizophrenia vs. manic and unipolar depression, on which all the other diagnostic categories of mental illness of unknown etiology, new and not so new, are based. DSM-5’s approach is similar to attempting to salvage a house, falling apart because it is built on an unsound foundation, by adding to it a fresh coat of paint and new shutters.

What Mind, Modernity, Madness does, in contrast, is to dismantle the structure, establish a sound foundation, and then rebuild the house on top of it. I begin by questioning and analyzing the fundamental diagnostic categories themselves, consider them against the existing clinical, neurobiological, genetic, and epidemiological evidence, bring into the mix the never-before-considered cultural data, and on this basis propose that the two (schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness) or even three (schizophrenia, manic depression, and unipolar depression) discreet diseases are better conceptualized–and therefore treated–as the same disease, with one cause, which expresses itself differently depending on the circumstances in which this cause becomes operative. Psychiatric epidemiologists, at least, have long suspected that “the black box of culture” is an important contributing factor in these diseases. However, as the phrase indicates, they lack the means to understand or even examine its contribution. By unpacking the “black box” (and showing, specifically, how it is reflected in the logically necessary structures of the mind, such as identity, will, and thinking self), I add a missing yet essential dimension to the diagnostic tool-kit, which the DSM-5, like the previous editions, disregards.

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