That's right. The latest sensational blast on the fate of that darling of the media the DSM5 is that it is dead on arrival. That recent proclamation is from the Neuroskeptic and it is based on the analysis of criticism of DSM5 criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). OK - the original proclamation was "increasingly likely DOA". I confess that at this point I have not read the original article by Starcevic, Portman, and Beck but the Neuroskeptic provides significant excerpts and analysis.
The broad criticism is that the category has been expanded and is therefore less specific. The authors are concerned that this will lead to more inclusion and that will have "negative consequences." The main concern is the "overmedicalization" of the worried and the dilution of clinical trails. All this gnashing of the teeth leads me to wonder if anyone has actually read the Generalized Anxiety Disorder DSM5 criteria that is available on line. The proposed new criteria, the old DSM-IV criteria and the rationale for the changes are readily observed. The basic changes include a reduction on the time criteria for excessive worry from 6 months to three months, the elimination of criteria about not being able to control worry, and the elimination of 4/6 symptoms under criteria C (easy fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability and sleep disturbance). A new section on associated behaviors including avoidance behavior a well known feature of anxiety disorders is included. The remaining sections on impairment and differential diagnosis are about the same. The GAD-7 is included as a severity measure although I note that the Pfizer copyright is not included.
So what about all of the criticism? The "Rationale" tab is a good read on the DSM5 web site. I can say that clinically non-experts are generally clueless about the DSM-IV features of anxiety especially irritability. Most psychiatrists have a natural interest in irritability because we tend to see a lot of irritable people. There has been some isolated work on irritability but it really has not produced much probably because it is another nonspecific symptoms that cuts across multiple categories like the authors apply to cognitive problems and pain. So I will miss irritability but not much. Psychiatrists have to deal with it whether we have a category for it or not and hence the need for a diagnostic formulation in addition to a DSM diagnosis (managed care time constraints permitting).
But like most things psychiatric - the worried masses rarely present to psychiatrists for treatment these days. How likely is it that a busy primary care physician is going to review ANY DSM criteria for GAD? How likely is it that a person with a substance abuse disorder is going to disclose those details to a primary care physician as a probable cause of their anxiety disorder? How likely is it that benzodiazepines will be avoided as a first line treatment for any anxiety disorder? In my experience as an addiction psychiatrist I would place the probability in all three questions to be very low. It doesn't really matter if you use DSM-IV criteria or DSM5 criteria - the results are the same.
As far as "medicalization" goes, I am sure that somebody (probably on the Huffington Blog) will whip this into another rant about how the DSM5 enables psychiatrists to overdiagnose and overprescribe in our role as stooges for Big Pharma. But who really has an interest in treating all anxiety like a medical problem? I have previously posted John Greist's single handed efforts in promoting psychotherapy and computerized psychotherapy for anxiety disorders even to the point of saying that the results are superior to pharmacotherapy. In the meantime, what has the managed care cartel been doing? Although their published guidelines appear to be nonexistent it would be difficult to not see the parallels between approaches that use the PHQ-9 to assess and treat depression and using the parallel instrument GAD-7 in a similar manner. The problem with both approaches is that they are acontextual and the severity component cannot be adequately assessed. The goal of managed care approaches to treat depression is clearly to get as many people on medications as possible and call that adequate treatment. Why would the treatment of GAD be any different?
It should be obvious at this point that I am not too concerned about the DSM5, DSM-IV, or whatever diagnostic system somebody wants to use. The DSM5 is clearly about rearranging criteria based on recent studies with the sole exception of including valid biological markers for the sleep disorders section. Like many my speculation is that the ultimate information based approach to psychiatric disorders rests in genomics and refined epigenetic analysis and I look forward to that information being incorporated at some point along the way.
But let's get realistic about why the results of DSM technology are limited. As it is with DSM-IV and as it will be with DSM5, clinicians are free to interpret and diagnose basically whatever they want. Even with the vagaries of a DSM diagnosis, I doubt that the majority of primary care treatment hinges on a DSM diagnosis of any sort. I also doubt that the dominant managed care approach to diagnosis and treatment of GAD depends on a psychiatric diagnosis or research based treatment. It certainly excludes psychotherapy. Trying to pin those serious deficiencies as well as overexposure to medication on the DSM and psychiatrists is folly.
George Dawson, MD, DFAPA
1: Gorman JM. Generalized anxiety disorders. Mod Probl Pharmacopsychiatry. 1987; 22: 127-40. PubMed PMID: 3299062.