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New psychiatric manual faces backlash

Published: Wednesday, May 15 2013 10:58 p.m. MDT

This Monday, May 13, 2013 photo shows the books This Monday, May 13, 2013 photo shows the books "The Book of Woe" by Gary Greenberg and "Saving Normal" by Allen Francis on display in Chicago. Recent criticism of changes in an update of psychiatry's most widely used guidebook for diagnosing mental illness include these books by two respected therapists. They argue that the American Psychiatric Association's guidebook is turning normal human conditions into mental illness and will lead to even more overuse of psychiatric drugs. The association is introducing the updated guide at its annual meeting in San Francisco in May 2013. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) (Associated Press)

CHICAGO — In the new psychiatric manual of mental disorders, grief soon after a loved one's death can be considered major depression, extreme childhood temper tantrums get a fancy name and certain "senior moments" are now called "mild neurocognitive disorder."

Those changes are just some of the reasons prominent critics say the American Psychiatric Association is out of control, turning common human problems into mental illnesses in a trend they say will just make the "pop-a-pill" culture worse.

"Normal needs to be saved from powerful forces trying to convince us that we are all sick," a former leader of the group said.

At issue is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, widely known as the DSM-5. The DSM has long been considered the authoritative source for diagnosing mental problems.

The psychiatric association formally introduces the nearly 1,000-page revised version this weekend in San Francisco. It's the manual's first major update in nearly 20 years, and a backlash has taken shape in recent weeks.The manual's release comes at a time of increased scrutiny of health care costs and concern about drug company influence over doctors. Critics point to a landscape in which TV ads describe symptoms for mental disorders and promote certain drugs to treat them.

This undated image provided by the American Psychiatric Association in May 2013 shows Dr. David J. Kupfer. As the chairman of the task force that oversaw the changes to the American Psychiatric Association guidebook being released in May 2013, Kupfer says the revisions are based on solid research and will help make sure people get accurate diagnoses and treatment. But prominent critics say the American Psychiatric Association is out of control, turning common human problems into mental illness in a trend they say will just make the ?pop-a-pill? culture worse. (AP Photo/American Psychiatric Association) (Associated Press) This undated image provided by the American Psychiatric Association in May 2013 shows Dr. David J. Kupfer. As the chairman of the task force that oversaw the changes to the American Psychiatric Association guidebook being released in May 2013, Kupfer says the revisions are based on solid research and will help make sure people get accurate diagnoses and treatment. But prominent critics say the American Psychiatric Association is out of control, turning common human problems into mental illness in a trend they say will just make the ?pop-a-pill? culture worse. (AP Photo/American Psychiatric Association) (Associated Press)

Dr. Allen Frances, a Duke University professor who headed the psychiatry group's task force that worked on the previous handbook, said the new version adds new diagnoses "that would turn everyday anxiety, eccentricity, forgetting and bad eating habits into mental disorders."

Previous revisions were also loudly criticized, but the latest one comes at a time of soaring diagnoses of illnesses listed in the manual — including autism, attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder — and billions of dollars spent each year on psychiatric drugs.

The group's 34,000 members are psychiatrists — medical doctors who specialize in treating mental illness. However, unlike psychologists and other therapists without medical degrees, they can prescribe medication. While there has long been rivalry between the two groups, the DSM-5 revisions have stoked the tensions.

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