After another wave on my facebook feed of shared articles expressing concern, derision, and even outright fear over the diagnostic criteria given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), currently in its fifth edition, I feel the need to write a little something here.
The DSM is essentially not much more than a means of linking a set of pathological traits with a shorthand definition. This can be useful when communicating between different health professionals or to health insurance companies, and when gathering statistics and conducting research on mental illness. It doesn’t generate new diseases, really, just labels to quickly describe observed illnesses.
The DSM itself explains that for something to be a mental illness, well, it has to cause illness — it needs to be “associated with present distress[…]or disability[…]or with a significant increased risk of suffering.”