Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Grant Activity: Current Activity Impacting Communities

Burning psychiatry's bible: A new framework for diagnosing mental illness

March 17, 2016 | By: Audrey Quinn
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. (Courtesy of Irene Hurford)
Possibly the only thing scarier than public speaking, is getting called out while you're public speaking. In the early 1990s, Judith Ford was a neuroscientist at Stanford. She'd made her name in studying the aging brain, but she'd just recently shifted to schizophrenia research. She was presenting at a conference in front of a room full of strangers.
"It was actually, probably, the first talk I'd ever given at a conference on schizophrenia," she says. "And someone in the audience raised his hand, and said, 'How can you study schizophrenia? Schizophrenia is just a composite of huge number of different kinds of symptoms, everything from hallucinations, to delusions, to thought disorder. How can you say anything about schizophrenia?' And I really had no idea how to answer that."
Ford says it was pretty traumatic. But she went back to her lab, and thought about what he had said. She hadn't really been getting anywhere with her schizophrenia research, and by questioning the label of schizophrenia, he'd given her permission to move away from the framework of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM.
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