October 17, 2016

What Is The DSM?

What Is The DSM?

The DSM is The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Published by the American Psychiatric Association, and is, as of this writing, on the fifth version of publication and is known commonly as “The DSM-5”. The DSM is the standard for diagnosis and treating mental health disorders.

“…While these criteria help increase diagnostic reliability (i.e., the likelihood that two doctors would come up with the same diagnosis when using DSM to assess a patient), it is important to remember that these criteria are meant to be used by trained professionals using clinical judgment; they are not meant to be used by the general public in a cookbook fashion.” -The APA

Information in the DSM is used not only as research for the diagnosis and treatment of patients in the United States, countries around the world use the DSM as well. The topics covered in pages of the DSM include causes of mental health disorders, gender and age of onset statistics, and prognosis. Also included in the DSM is research concerning the optimal treatment approaches for mental health disorders.


Another use for the DSM is for clinicians to help insurance companies better understand the future needs of a patient. Since 2015, HIPPA regulations have required that International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes be used. The DSM has included ICD-9 codes since 1980. Now, per HIPPA, ICD-10 codes are used. These codes allow for very specific diagnostic coding. For example:

  • Bipolar Disorder II: F31.81
  • Bipolar Disorder, current episode hypomanic: F31.00
  • Bipolar Disorder, current episode depressed, mild: F31:31
  • Bipolar Disorder with Anxiety: F43.22


Released with the great fanfare of controversy, the DSM-5 has had critics for how it organized, influenced, and even about the reliability of the information in the DSM-5.

“Various authorities criticized the fifth edition both before and after it was formally published. Critics assert, for example, that many DSM-5 revisions or additions lack empirical support; inter-rater reliability is low for many disorders; several sections contain poorly written, confusing, or contradictory information; and the psychiatric drug industry unduly influenced the manual’s content. Various scientists have argued that the DSM-5 forces clinicians to make distinctions that are not supported by solid evidence, distinctions that have major treatment implications, including drug prescriptions and the availability of health insurance coverage. General criticism of the DSM-5 ultimately resulted in a petition, signed by many mental healthorganizations, which called for outside review of DSM-5″

Three Components

DSM consists of three major components: the diagnostic classification, the diagnostic criteria sets, and the descriptive text.

The diagnostic classification is the official list of mental disorders recognized in DSM. This is where the ICD code is found.

For each disorder included in DSM, a set of diagnostic criteria indicates symptoms that must be present (and for how long) as well as other symptoms and disorders that must be ruled out.

The third area of DSM is the descriptive text that accompanies each disorder. The text of DSM-5 provides information about each disorder under several headings.

Learn more about Patient and Family Resources from the APA



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