What is the DSM-5?

In many ways, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-5, can fairly be called the bible of the psychology profession. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders currently is in use. Like many people, you may have questions about the DSM-5 and what purpose it serves.

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Essential Description of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

The DSM is a publication of the American Psychiatric Association. According to the APA, the Manual is designed to provide standard criteria for classifying mental disorders using common language.

The DSM is utilized by a wide array of professionals and organizations, according to the APA. These include:

  • clinicians
  • researchers
  • psychiatric drug regulation agencies
  • health insurance companies
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • legal system
  • policymakers

The History of the DSM

The initial push behind creating and publishing the DSM and classifying different mental disorders was the necessity to collect statistical data. The first real attempt to classify mental disorders and collect statistical data can actually be traced to the U.S. census of 1840. Only one category entitled “idiocy/insanity” was used.

Four years later, the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane was established, an organization that would evolve over time into the APA. In 1880, through this organization, a 582-page report was published entitled “Report on the Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes of the Population of the United States.” This report included seven classifications for mental disorders:

  • dementia
  • dipsomania (ultimately called alcohol addiction)
  • epilepsy (no longer classified as a mental illness)
  • mania
  • melancholia
  • monomania
  • paresis

Following World War II, psychiatrists and psychologists became heavily involved in the care of soldiers. This resulted in an extensive reexamination of how mental health maladies were classified and resulted in the publication of the first edition of the DMS in 1952. Subsequent editions were published in 1968, 1980, 1987, 1994, and the most recent edition in 2013.

Beginning in 2013, more supplements and addendums will be attached to the existing edition than historically occurred. This is likely to extend the period of time before a new edition of the Manual is published by the APA.

Focus on Diagnosis

Beginning with the third edition in 1987, DSM-3, the focus has been on diagnosis. Although the use of the DSM for statistical and research purposes remains, its main use in this day and age is to aid in the diagnosis of patients. The DMS collects data regarding signs and symptoms of various mental disorders from a multitude of resources. Armed with that data, the DSM brings those signs and symptoms together for each recognized mental disorder to provide a means for clinicians to make what is hope to be a proper diagnosis of a patient.

The current edition of the DSM is expected to remain a primary resource used by clinicians in diagnosing and treating patients with mental health maladies. The DSM-5 will remain this principle resource until the next edition is published by the APA.