What is a mental disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association kept this question in mind while preparing their latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Definitions of mental disorders in the DSM-5 consider these 5 factors:
- A behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual
- Reflects an underlying psychobiological dysfunction
- The consequences of which are clinically significant distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning)
- Must not be merely an expected response to common stressors and losses (ex. the loss of a loved one) or a culturally sanctioned response to a particular event (ex. trance states in religious rituals)
- Primarily a result of social deviance or conflicts with society
In order to avoid alienating any particular constituency of mental health professionals, the DSM has strategically adopted an atheoretical stance on the etiology or causes of mental disorders in its definitions. At the same time, the DSM conforms to a medical model by organizing mental disorders into discrete categories, just as medicine does with diseases. That is, the DSM is a medical-model manual that is nonetheless atheoretical about the causes of the mental disorders it catalogs. This may be confusing but important to keep in mind.
The folk at APA created “Understanding Mental Disorders” – Your Guide to DSM-5