University professor joins call for new look at psychiatric diagnosis

Professor Peter Kinderman

Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University’s Department of Psychological Sciences, is working with an international task force to address major concerns about major psychiatric diagnostic manuals.

An international Task Force of the American Psychological Association’s Division 32: Society for Humanistic Psychology has today (12 February 2020) issued a statement detailing concerns about major psychiatric diagnostic manuals.

In an open letter already endorsed by leading international mental health organisations, the Task Force calls for significant changes to our diagnostic systems to combat the continued and continuous medicalization of our natural and normal emotional responses.

This over-medicalization causes an epidemic of prescribed drug harms. Prescription of dependence-forming psychiatric drugs has reached terrifying proportions. One in five Americans now takes a psychiatric drug, with widespread problems of dependence, and therefore physical and psychological harm. The United Nations Special Rapporteur Dr Dainius Pūras has pointed out that prescription follows diagnosis and “the excessive use of diagnostic categories [can] lead to excessive medicalization.”

The challenge issued by the letters’ authors addressed the leaders of the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and others developing psychiatric diagnostic manuals, asking these leaders to reflect on the purpose and aim of diagnostic systems (as a mechanism for the marketing of medications and professions versus a genuine attempt to improve wellbeing), address financial conflicts of interest, permit democratic oversight and governance, incorporate a breadth of scientific and philosophical perspectives, and address the scientific failings of conventional approaches.

Professor Peter Kinderman, said: “Seeing our difficult emotions as symptoms of mental illness is only one way of thinking about them, with advantages and disadvantages. Biomedical psychiatry does not have a monopoly of understanding, and, in this open letter, we make it clear that there are alternative perspectives – valid and based on sound scientific evidence – that deserve to be given consideration. We need to stop blaming and medicating the victims of abuse and disadvantage.

“Mental health professionals, politicians, journalists and members of the public are realising that there are alternatives to an exclusively biomedical perspective on our mental health is ineffective and dangerous, leading to pathologising labels and the prescription of harmful drugs in huge quantities.”

Sarah Kamens, Co-Chair of the Task Force and Assistant Professor of Psychology at SUNY College at Old Westbury, said: “Researchers have recently proposed the idea of a “paradigm shift” in psychiatric diagnosis. Our current paradigm is primarily focused on identifying biomarkers for mental distress, and efforts to fix or improve this paradigm do not constitute “shifts.”

“A true paradigm shift would “diagnose” our condition as biological beings who experience social problems that make us suffer. Imagine a diagnostic system centred on experiences like poverty, homelessness, and discrimination. Now that would be a paradigm shift.”

The open letter to the leaders of the American Psychiatric Association and World Health Organization can be found here.