The last DSM

The National Institute of Mental Health released a statement last week about a change in the way it will be conducting research on mental health. In a statement, the institute said it will start doing research in a way that ignores the categories in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is commonly known as the DSM.

Instead of diagnosing patients based on symptoms such as depressed mood and fatigue, the institute wants to use more quantitative data, such as genetic or brain-imaging data, in diagnoses. Such a shift would bring mental health diagnoses to par with diagnoses in other health fields, according to the institute’s statement. Most other fields abandoned symptom-based diagnosis after the middle of the last century, but not psychiatry. After all, some of the proposed lab measures for mental health, such as genetics and brain images, weren’t even measurable until recently. It took technology a while to catch up to the kinds of data that may be associated with mental health disorders.

“We are committed to new and better treatments, but we feel this will only happen by developing a more precise diagnostic system,” institute director Thomas Insel said in the statement.