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DSMV Revisions Erupt in Controversy

The case for Post Dissertation Depression (PDD)*

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has been undergoing revisions, with the newest edition slated to be released in May 2013 (according to the American Psychiatric Association, refer to dsm5.org). Inevitably, the inclusion of some disorders and alteration to the standards of others has led to controversy.

For instance, just this past week, the print edition of The New York Times featured a cover story regarding the possibility that grief may be added as a viable feature of clinical depression (Carey, 2012). That's right, folks, grief may become an indicator of potential pathology. While practitioners debate the merits of this potential inclusion, controversy has similarly erupted over proposals to tighten the criteria for autism, meaning that less people would fit the criteria for this disorder under the new standards. As one can imagine, these proposals have generated considerable debate in the field (to put it mildly). Indeed, as Casey (2012) notes in the article, "Psychiatrists say current efforts to revise the manual are shaping up as the most contentious ever" (Para 3).

In an effort to join this debate, I would like to propose a new type of depression for consideration: Post Dissertation Depression (PDD). Through my extensive past experiences as a graduate student, as well as my observations of fellow peers toiling through their programs today, I believe that there is verifiable indications that PDD is on the rise. Similar in some ways to the already established Post Partum Depression (PPD), the proposed PDD is a depression specific to graduate students who spend years grueling over a certain type of gestation that finally occurs when they complete their dissertation and successfully pass through the defense. Upon reception of one's doctorate degree, oftentimes symptoms of PDD begin to become observable, although for some, symptoms may have surfaced earlier during the dissertation process. Indeed, oftentimes these symptoms remain latent during graduate work, only to appear and become magnified following completion of the defense and reception of one's doctorate degree.

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These symptoms are well aligned with other types of depression, and thus include: feelings of hopelessness (I am now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and I have forsaken a social life all for this piece of paper?), feelings of helplessness (wait a minute, I spent all these years doing my graduate work and am now trying to enter a work force with an unemployment rate of 9 percent?!), feelings of worthlessness and/or regret (did I make a mistake rejecting that offer from that French guy to move abroad with him? Did I really pick graduate school over romance?!), excessive fatigue (five years of all nighters spent eating bad take out and analyzing statistical output have finally taken their toll), frequent mood changes (Yes, I want to be a researcher, wait, no, I hate analyzing data—wait, no, I can do this...), inflated sense of self (I know you are my sister, but I still think it incumbent that you start referring to me from now on as Doctor), concentration problems (I just spent three years content analyzing thousands of paragraphs, no, I am sorry, I cannot remember your second cousin twice removed daughter's birth date) and in severe cases, the potential for delusional thoughts (I am one discovery away from becoming the next Freud, look out psychology world!).

While it is not known exactly which graduates are more likely to develop PDD, certain risk factors heightening one's chances include: A history of depression in the past; a longer duration of dissertation work (e.g. if it takes over seven years to complete the program); specifically if the graduate work was in psychology; financial strain (that's right, if you had to take out loans and/or didn't have a fellowship you are screwed), and/or recent stressful life experiences (isn't that all graduate students?!).

The best way to prevent the emergence of PDD is to refrain from ever becoming a Ph.D. candidate, although in the psychological community the merits of such an extreme preventative measure continue to be debated.

To the APA, as the debates regarding the DSMV revisions continue, Post Dissertation Depression is something for your consideration.


American Psychiatric Association (2012). DSM-5 Development. Retrieved on January 29th 2012 from: http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevision/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?...

Carey, B. (2012). Grief Could Join List of Disorders. The New York Times' Health section, Retrieved on January 29th 2012 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/health/depressions-criteria-may... .

*Please note that this suggestion is in jest, and not an actual consideration for the next edition of the DSM.

Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2012

Azadeh Aalai, PhD, is a Tenure-Track, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Queensborough Community College in New York.

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