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Surprising Science

Psychiatry Doing More Harm Than Good?

At the very least, says Marcia Angell, we need to stop thinking of psychoactive drugs as the best, and often the only, treatment for mental illness or emotional distress.

What’s the Latest Development?


The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), to be released in 2013, will further expand the number of psychological illnesses able to be diagnosed. “In particular, diagnostic boundaries will be broadened to include precursors of disorders, such as ‘psychosis risk syndrome’ and ‘mild cognitive impairment’ (possible early Alzheimer’s disease). The term ‘spectrum’ is used to widen categories, for example, ‘obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum,’ ‘schizophrenia spectrum disorder,’ and ‘autism spectrum disorder.'”

What’s the Big Idea?

The broadening of diagnostic boundaries of psychological illnesses, in what is essentially the Bible of psychiatry, is a sign of corruption, says Marcia Angell. Pharmaceutical companies have too much influence over today’s practice of psychiatry, where psychoactive pills are prescribed quickly in lieu of more meaningful treatment. The worst aspect of psychiatry’s drive to be seen as a legitimate medical science is its influence on the young. Psychological illnesses are diagnosed in young children under an imprecise rubric; today one in ten boys are taking a psychoactive drug. 


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