DSM-5 & the Future of Psychiatric Diagnosis: Perspectives from the Medical Humanities

Brocher foundation, Switzerland

Organizer: Dr Matthew Smith, University of Strathclyde

In May of 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published. Often referred to as the ‘Psychiatric Bible’, the DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association, may be the most influential psychiatric text in the world, but it is also controversial. Commonly reflecting the psychiatric zeitgeist of the time, various editions of the DSM have ushered in new psychiatric disorders, new diagnostic criteria for established disorders and new ways of thinking of mental illness. No longer a manual merely for American psychiatrists, the DSM now influences mental health professionals world wide, contributing to increasing rates of disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

So, what does DSM-5 say about the state of American psychiatry and the prospects for psychiatric thinking elsewhere? If anything, it demonstrates that psychiatry, as with many other times in its history, is in a state of flux. Controversy has wreaked the development of DSM-5, leading to delays in publication and heated arguments about its contents. At stake is not only American dominance of psychiatry, and the respective psychopharmacological model of mental illness, but also the notion that mental disorders are essential and universal conditions, constant throughout time and space and not at all contingent upon cultural, historical, political, technological or economic factors. This symposium seeks to analyse what DSM-5 may hold in store for the future of psychiatry by exploring the broader context in which it exists and, indeed, the contexts in which previous editions of this important psychiatric manual have existed. By investigating DSM-5, along with the recent history of psychiatric diagnosis more generally, from the perspective of the medical humanities (history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, sociology), this symposium will illuminate the complicated, yet far-reaching, processes by which individuals are deemed to be mentally disordered or not. It is expected that the papers presented at the symposium will be included in an edited volume, possibly with the Social History of Medicine series (Pickering and Chatto, London). The symposium organiser is on the executive committee of the Society for the Social History of Medicine and has discussed this possibility. Another option would be a special issue of the journal History of Psychiatry, for which the organiser is a Book Reviews Editor.

Speakers comprise:

Matthew Smith

Charlotte Blease

Despo Kritsotaki

Ginny Russell

Felicity Callard

Dominique Behague

Rachel Cooper

Tom Burns

Vicky Long

Stefan Ecks

Mat Savelli

Hanna Mantilla


Discussants comprise:

Sami Timimi

Allan Beveridge

Iain McClure

Charlotte Lunde

David Herzberg

Andrea Tone

Samuel Leze

Tim Thornton

Gavin Miller

Erika Dyck

Nicole Baur

Matthew Broome

For further information about the workshop, including paper titles, click here.



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