Until now, the American Psychiatric Association seemed the entity best equipped to monitor the diagnostic system. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. D.S.M.-5 promises to be a disaster — even after the changes approved this week, it will introduce many new and unproven diagnoses that will medicalize normality and result in a glut of unnecessary and harmful drug prescription. The association has been largely deaf to the widespread criticism of D.S.M.-5, stubbornly refusing to subject the proposals to independent scientific review.
Many critics assume unfairly that D.S.M.-5 is shilling for drug companies. This is not true. The mistakes are rather the result of an intellectual conflict of interest; experts always overvalue their pet area and want to expand its purview, until the point that everyday problems come to be mislabeled as mental disorders. Arrogance, secretiveness, passive governance and administrative disorganization have also played a role.
New diagnoses in psychiatry can be far more dangerous than new drugs. We need some equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration to mind the store and control diagnostic exuberance. No existing organization is ready to replace the American Psychiatric Association. The most obvious candidate, the National Institute of Mental Health, is too research-oriented and insensitive to the vicissitudes of clinical practice. A new structure will be needed, probably best placed under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Institute of Medicine or the World Health Organization.
All mental-health disciplines need representation — not just psychiatrists but also psychologists, counselors, social workers and nurses. The broader consequences of changes should be vetted by epidemiologists, health economists and public-policy and forensic experts. Primary care doctors prescribe the majority of psychotropic medication, often carelessly, and need to contribute to the diagnostic system if they are to use it correctly. Consumers should play an important role in the review process, and field testing should occur in real life settings, not just academic centers.
Psychiatric diagnosis is simply too important to be left exclusively in the hands of psychiatrists. They will always be an essential part of the mix but should no longer be permitted to call all the shots.