Frances has even said that “there is no definition of a mental disorder. . . . These concepts are virtually impossible to define precisely.”
Mental health professionals should use, and patients should insist on, what does work: not snap-judgment diagnoses, but instead listening to patients respectfully to understand their suffering — and help them find more natural ways of healing. Exercise, good nutrition, meditation and human connection are often more effective — and less risky — than drugs or electroshock.
Patients should not be limited in their choices of treatment, but they should be better informed. If someone knows about the many ways that suffering can be addressed, including a drug or a treatment with potential benefits and harms, and they still want to try it, they should be able to.
While patients who think they have been harmed by a diagnosis can file a lawsuit or a complaint with a state licensing body, that almost never happens. However, this weekend marks a big change, as some people are speaking up: About 10 people who received diagnoses from the current DSM edition are filing complaints against the manual’s editors. (I have worked with the patients to prepare their complaints, and I’m filing my own as a concerned clinician.)
The complainants allege that the DSM’s editors failed to follow the APA’s ethical principles, which include taking account of scientific knowledge and respecting patients’ welfare and dignity. They are asking the APA to order the editors to redress the harm done to them — or in one case, to a deceased relative — and to anyone else hurt by receiving a label. They want the APA to hold a public hearing about the dangers of psychiatric diagnosis to gather information about the extent of the damage and look for ways to minimize it. Additionally, they are asking the APA to make clear to therapists and to the public that psychiatric diagnoses are not scientific and that they often put patients at risk.
As the patient labeled as bipolar told me: “If I had never been diagnosed, I probably would still be married, would live close to family and friends and not be so lonely, and would not be living on the financial edge.”
Paula J. Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist, is a fellow in the Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of “They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal.”
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