Under the Hood

Study: Psychiatric Diagnosis ‘Scientifically Meaningless,' Only Creates ‘Illusion’

Most of psychiatric diagnoses are “scientifically worthless” to identify mental health disorders. That is according to a new study that analyzed commonly used guidelines by clinics to determine patient conditions. 

The study, published in Psychiatry Research, explores the accuracy of the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Mental health professionals use such diagnostic manual to determine schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, anxiety and trauma-related disorders. 

DSM and other manuals provide experts with a common language that they can use for a definitive list of mental health problems and their symptoms. However, researchers from the University of Liverpool in England said that information from such guidelines are “are scientifically meaningless.”

The latest study shows that all psychiatric diagnoses use different decision-making rules, almost all diagnoses ignore the role of trauma and adverse events and there is an overlap in symptoms between diagnoses. 

The researchers also found that diagnoses present little information about the patient and what treatment they need. 

“Although diagnostic labels create the illusion of an explanation they are scientifically meaningless and can create stigma and prejudice,” Kate Allsopp, lead researcher from the University of Liverpool, said in a statement

The study provides evidence that the biomedical diagnostic approach in psychiatry is not effective, according to Peter Kinderman, a professor at the university. Most diagnoses “uncritically” identify conditions as “real illnesses” despite inconsistent, confused and contradictory basis.

“The diagnostic system wrongly assumes that all distress results from disorder, and relies heavily on subjective judgments about what is normal," Kinderman said. 

John Read, a professor at the University of East London, said the latest findings should lead medical experts stop considering diagnostic labels as useful to understand the complex causes of human distress.

“I hope these findings will encourage mental health professionals to think beyond diagnoses and consider other explanations of mental distress, such as trauma and other adverse life experiences,” Allsopp said.  

In the U.S., estimates show that one in five adults experiences a mental illness every year. That covers 46.6 million people in the country, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

Sadness Gallup has released the results of its global survey that looked into the world's “emotional temperature.” Pixabay