The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the reference manual mental health professionals and physicians use to diagnose mental disorders in the United States. First published in 1952, the most recent edition of this reference text — the 5th edition, so it will be known as the DSM-5 — is to be published in May 2013.

The origins of the DSM date back to 1840 — when the government wanted to collect data on mental illness. The term”idiocy/insanity” appeared in that year’s census. Forty years later, the census expanded to feature these seven categories: mania, melancholia, monomania, paresis, dementia, dipsomania and epilepsy.

But there was still a need to gather uniform stats across mental hospitals. In 1917, the Bureau of the Census embraced a publication called the Statistical Manual for the Use of Institutions for the Insane. It was created by the Committee on Statistics of the American Medico-Psychological Association (now the American Psychiatric Association) and the National Commission on Mental Hygiene. The committees separated mental illness into 22 groups. The manual went through 10 editions until 1942.

The modern DSM is based upon a rigorous research review and consensus among multi-discplinary workgroups that represent all mental health professions.

Before the DSM, there were several different diagnostic systems. So there was a real need for a classification that minimized the confusion, created a consensus among the field and helped mental health professionals communicate using a common diagnostic language.

Published in 1952, DSM-I featured descriptions of 106 disorders, that were referred to as reactions. The term reactions originated from Adolf Meyer, who had a “psychobiological view that mental disorders represented reactions of the personality to psychological, social and biological factors” (from the DSM-IV-TR).

When DSM-III was published in 1980, however, there was a major shift from its earlier editions. DSM-III dropped the psychodynamic perspective in favor of empiricism — research-backed categorization — and expanded to 494 pages with 265 diagnostic categories.

The DSM-IV had approximately 300 diagnostic categories when it was published in 1994. The DSM-5 has a similar increase of about 10 percent new diagnostic categories.

Major Changes in the DSM-5

Please note that the DSM-5 has dropped the multi-axial diagnosis system. This is one of this edition’s biggest changes.

Background & Information on the DSM-5

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