Revisions are under way to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry. Mental health professionals have been rewriting diagnostic criteria and submitting new diagnoses for years in preparation for the fifth edition of the manual. Now, at 11 sites around the country, including the University of Pennsylvania, clinicians will test those new diagnoses.
Dr. Mahendra Bhati, the University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor who will lead the clinical trials, said the testing is relatively simple: Bring in volunteer patients and see if two mental health professionals diagnose the same patient with the same disorder most of the time.
“If different clinicians can’t reliable diagnose the same condition,” Bhati said, “then it’s not going to be included in the DSM.”
Penn researchers will practice applying new diagnostic criteria for general anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. And they will test the brand-new diagnosis of hoarding disorder. Bhati said it’s clear that there are people who hoard, but the field trial will reveal whether it causes clinical problems in enough people to call it a disorder.
David Mandell, from Penn’s Center for Autism Research, said he is interested in seeing how changing the autism diagnosis to one spectrum, from mild to severe, will affect patients.
“How these diagnoses play out in the field, and whether people who’ve met criteria before don’t meet them now,” Mandell said. “Or people who didn’t meet criteria before meet them now is always really fascinating. “
Penn has started recruiting volunteers for the trails, which will start in the next few weeks and continue until May. The new edition of the manual won’t be published until 2013.