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Study finds psychiatric diagnoses to be ‘scientifically meaningless’


Psy­chi­atric diag­no­sis ‘sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly mean­ing­less’ (Sci­ence Dai­ly):

A new study, pub­lished in Psy­chi­a­try Research, has con­clud­ed that psy­chi­atric diag­noses are sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly worth­less as tools to iden­ti­fy dis­crete men­tal health dis­or­ders.

The study, led by researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Liv­er­pool, involved a detailed analy­sis of five key chap­ters of the lat­est edi­tion of the wide­ly used Diag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­u­al (DSM), on ‘schiz­o­phre­nia’, ‘bipo­lar dis­or­der’, ‘depres­sive dis­or­ders’, ‘anx­i­ety dis­or­ders’ and ‘trau­ma-relat­ed dis­or­ders’ … The main find­ings of the research were:

  • Psy­chi­atric diag­noses all use dif­fer­ent deci­sion-mak­ing rules
  • There is a huge amount of over­lap in symp­toms between diag­noses
  • Almost all diag­noses mask the role of trau­ma and adverse events
  • Diag­noses tell us lit­tle about the indi­vid­ual patient and what treat­ment they need

… Lead researcher Dr Kate All­sopp, Uni­ver­si­ty of Liv­er­pool, said: “Although diag­nos­tic labels cre­ate the illu­sion of an expla­na­tion they are sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly mean­ing­less and can cre­ate stig­ma and prej­u­dice.”

The Study:

Het­ero­gene­ity in psy­chi­atric diag­nos­tic clas­si­fi­ca­tion (Psy­chi­a­try Research). From the abstract:

  • The the­o­ry and prac­tice of psy­chi­atric diag­no­sis are cen­tral yet con­tentious. This paper exam­ines the het­ero­ge­neous nature of cat­e­gories with­in the DSM‑5, how this het­ero­gene­ity is expressed across diag­nos­tic cri­te­ria, and its con­se­quences for clin­i­cians, clients, and the diag­nos­tic mod­el. Select­ed chap­ters of the DSM‑5 were the­mat­i­cal­ly analysed: schiz­o­phre­nia spec­trum and oth­er psy­chot­ic dis­or­ders; bipo­lar and relat­ed dis­or­ders; depres­sive dis­or­ders; anx­i­ety dis­or­ders; and trau­ma- and stres­sor-relat­ed dis­or­ders. Themes iden­ti­fied het­ero­gene­ity in spe­cif­ic diag­nos­tic cri­te­ria, includ­ing symp­tom com­para­tors, dura­tion of dif­fi­cul­ties, indi­ca­tors of sever­i­ty, and per­spec­tive used to assess dif­fi­cul­ties. Wider vari­a­tions across diag­nos­tic cat­e­gories exam­ined symp­tom over­lap across cat­e­gories, and the role of trau­ma. Prag­mat­ic cri­te­ria and dif­fi­cul­ties that recur across mul­ti­ple diag­nos­tic cat­e­gories offer flex­i­bil­i­ty for the clin­i­cian, but under­mine the mod­el of dis­crete cat­e­gories of dis­or­der …A prag­mat­ic approach to psy­chi­atric assess­ment, allow­ing for recog­ni­tion of indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence, may there­fore be a more effec­tive way of under­stand­ing dis­tress than main­tain­ing com­mit­ment to a disin­gen­u­ous cat­e­gor­i­cal sys­tem.

The Study in Context:

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