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How accurate or helpful is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual?

The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is set for reveal at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting later this month. This text is meant to assist health professionals in determining diagnoses for individuals struggling with mental illness. There are some notable changes to the new version, but largely the criteria for diagnoses continue to rely heavily on clusters of symptoms. Accordingly, the National Institute of Mental Health feels that this it is time to rely on other data beyond the DSM in diagnosing individuals with mental struggles.

On several occasions we have discussed the stigma individuals struggling with debilitating mental conditions face in trying to secure help. In many instances, detailed medical documentation of debilitating symptoms from a mental illness is required in order to secure SSDI benefits. This need stems primarily from the fact that a large absence of clinical evidence exists in support of diagnoses for various struggles. This in no manner means that the struggle is not real; it means that the struggle is more difficult to verify. Accordingly, many mental health professionals continue to rely on the DSM.

We have discussed several efforts in the field to help change this. The National Institute of Mental Health hopes that more emphasis will be placed on a body of emerging science rather than relying so heavily on symptoms. Many hope that genetic markers in conjunction with cognitive science, imaging and other more concrete data will be able to back future diagnoses with less abstract evidence.

The director of NAMI said in a blog post, "Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. Patients with mental disorders deserve better." When these changes will come remains to be seen. In the mean time, it will still be critical to document evidence of symptoms for individuals looking for the assistance of SSDI benefits because a mental condition prevents the individual from working. An attorney with experience in handling disability cases would be well suited to assisting individuals in this pursuit.

Source: Disability Scoop, "Feds To Move Away From DSM," Michelle Diament, May 7, 2013

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