Why We’re Turning Psychiatric Labels Into Identities

May 7, 2024

a model of the regions of the brain

(The New Yorker) – So you’re on the spectrum, or you’ve got borderline personality disorder, or you’re a sociopath: once you’re sure that’s who you are, you’ve got a personal stake in a very creaky diagnostic system.

The DSM as we know it appeared in 1980, with the publication of the DSM-III. Whereas the first two editions featured broad classifications and a psychoanalytic perspective, the DSM-III favored more precise diagnostic criteria and a more scientific approach. Proponents hoped that research in genetics and neuroscience would corroborate the DSM’s groupings. Almost half a century later, however, the emerging picture is of overlapping conditions, of categories that blur rather than stand apart. No disorder has been tied to a specific gene or set of genes. Nearly all genetic vulnerabilities implicated in mental illness have been associated with many conditions. A review of more than five hundred fMRI studies of people engaged in specific tasks found that, although brain imaging can detect indicators of mental illness, it fails to distinguish between schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and other conditions. The DSM’s approach to categorization increasingly looks arbitrary and anachronistic. (Read More)

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