An online petition by psychologists concerned about the lack of science underlying proposed changes in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is taking off like wildfire, with more than 1,100 signatures as of this morning.

The blaze of interest is especially remarkable because the petition was launched without any publicity at all, and has gained traction solely through word of mouth.

The coalition of psychologists is publicly urging the American Psychiatric Association to reconsider the mental illness expansions and biomedical emphasis proposed for the fifth edition of the DSM, due out in 2013. The DSM-5 will reify disorders with little empirical support, lower the threshold for mental disorder, and foreground a purely biological approach to mental illness.

The coalition's online petitition comes on the heels of a similar public statement by the British Psychological Society, which I blogged about back in June.

The petition coalition expresses grave concern about the overemphasis on biomedical explanations for mental health problems, and the resulting overprescribing of dangerous psychiatric drugs:

In the absence of compelling evidence, we are concerned that these reconceptualizations of mental disorder as primarily medical phenomena may have scientific, socioeconomic, and forensic consequences....

Taken together, these proposed changes seem to depart from DSM's 30-year "atheoretical" stance in favor of a pathophysiological model. This move appears to overlook growing disenchantment with strict neurobiological theories of mental disorder (e.g., "chemical imbalance" theories such as the dopamine theory of schizophrenia and the serotonin theory of depression), as well as the general failure of the neo-Kraepelinian model for validating psychiatric illness....

We thus believe that a move towards biological theory directly contradicts evidence that psychopathology, unlike medical pathology, cannot be reduced to pathognomonic physiological signs or even multiple biomarkers. Further, growing evidence suggests that though psychotropic medications do not necessarily correct putative chemical imbalances, they do pose substantial iatrogenic hazards. For example, the increasingly popular neuroleptic (antipsychotic) medications, though helpful for many people in the short term, pose the long-term risks of obesity, diabetes, movement disorders, cognitive decline, worsening of psychotic symptoms, reduction in brain volume, and shortened lifespan.

Allen Frances, who chaired the task force of the previous DSM, the DSM-IV, and has been openly critical of the current process, said in an article in yesterday's Psychiatric Times that the APA plans no official response:

They hope to ride out the storm of opposition mounting on all sides and dismiss it as the work of professional rivals or antipsychiatry malcontents. Characteristically, DSM-5 offers no rebuttal based on evidence. Instead, it stubbornly soldiers on in its promotion of radical diagnostic changes that are risky, untested, unsupported by a strong science base, and vigorously opposed by the field.

Frances has another good commentary on the petition and its ramifications at his Psychology Today blog, DSM5 in Distress:

DSM 5 has lived in a world that seems to be hermetically sealed. Despite the obvious impossibility of many of its proposals, it shows no ability to self correct or learn from outside advice. The current drafts have changed almost not at all from their deeply flawed originals. The DSM 5 field trials ask the wrong questions and will make no contribution to the endgame.

But the DSM 5 deafness may finally be cured by a users' revolt. The APA budget depends heavily on the huge publishing profits that accrue from its DSM sales. APA has ignored the scientific, clinical, and public health reasons it should omit the most dangerous suggestions- but I suspect APA will be more sensitive to the looming risk of a boycott by users.

I encourage readers to view and sign this important petition, by clicking on the link below. You can also email the petition to others. So, spread the word.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE PETITION SITE.

About the Author

Karen Franklin, Ph.D.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D., is a forensic psychologist in Northern California.

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