Millions of healthy people - including shy or defiant children, grieving relatives and people with fetishes - may be wrongly labeled mentally ill by a new international diagnostic manual, specialists said on Thursday.
In a damning analysis of an upcoming revision of the influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health experts said its new categories and "tick-box" diagnosis systems were at best "silly" and at worst "worrying and dangerous."
Some diagnoses - for conditions like "oppositional defiant disorder" and "apathy syndrome" - risk devaluing the seriousness of mental illness and medicalising behaviors most people would consider normal or just mildly eccentric, the experts said.
At the other end of the spectrum, the new DSM, due out next year, could give medical diagnoses for serial rapists and sex abusers - under labels like "paraphilic coercive disorder" - and may allow offenders to escape prison by providing what could be seen as an excuse for their behavior, they added.
The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and has descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It is used internationally and is seen as the diagnostic "bible" for mental health medicine.
More than 11,000 health professionals have already signed a petition (at calling for the development of the fifth edition of the manual to be halted and re-thought.
"The proposed revision to DSM ... will exacerbate the problems that result from trying to fit a medical, diagnostic system to problems that just don't fit nicely into those boxes," said Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist and head of Liverpool University's Institute of Psychology at a briefing about widespread concerns over the book in London.
He said the new edition - known as DSM-5 - "will pathologise a wide range of problems which should never be thought of as mental illnesses."
"Many people who are shy, bereaved, eccentric, or have unconventional romantic lives will suddenly find themselves labeled as mentally ill," he said. "It's not humane, it's not scientific, and it won't help decide what help a person needs."