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Retired from a high-profile career as an academic psychiatrist, Frances now muses on the expensive and destructive medicalization of human experience in America.

In a recent post, I noted what I called his Post-Diagnostic Regret, his almost anguished reflection on his own implication in what another writer calls psychosprawl — the legitimation of so many behaviors as signs of mental illness that thirty percent of the country is now said to be mentally ill. This is great news for the pharmaceutical industry, America’s Fraud Queen.

In this piece, in Psychiatric Times (registration), Frances turns his attention to a recent, much-reported study.

The New York Times of Dec 20,2010 carried an alarming story. It seems that during the past decade, college students have suddenly become much more mentally ill. The rate of severe psychiatric disorder among those seen in school counseling services used to be 16%– now it has reached 44%. Ten years ago, 17% received psychiatric medicine– now it is 24%.

The jump, Frances suggests, is manufactured.

First, it’s far too easy for students to ace the DSM-IV tests for mental disorders. “[T]he severity and duration requirements included in DSM-IV were set too low, particularly in the criteria sets that define the milder forms of the depressive, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders.”

Second, impressionable and sometimes insecure students see endless slick ads encouraging them to palpate, as it were, their moods. “[P]rofit motivated skewing of public information about illness is rightly prohibited virtually everywhere else in the world,” Allen notes. He reminds readers that along with lavishing us with images of our mental fragility, drug companies have long “lavished physicians with industry-sponsored conferences, free trips and meals, free samples, biased research, and co-opted thought leaders. There [is] one drug salesperson for every seven doctors– sometimes outnumbering the patients in waiting areas. Not surprisingly, diagnosis and medication sales have skyrocketed and profits have risen astronomically.”

Side effects, lifelong stigma, insurance difficulties – these are obvious calamities for the wrongly labeled. More profoundly wounding is “the way a falsely diagnosed student sees himself at a crucial moment of identity formation– the reduction in the sense of personal efficacy, resilience, and responsibility.”

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One Response to “Another cheer for Allen Frances.”

  1. University Diaries » Some of your colleagues in psychiatry might be helping to write… Says:

    […] Frances, editor of an earlier DSMV, cautions against what some are calling psychosprawl: The greatest problem in the past 15 years of psychiatry has been diagnostic inflation and the […]

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