How will new 'psychiatric bible' change mental illness diagnosis?

Knows single words
Abdullahi Abdull strung together simple sentences as a young toddler. Then he suddenly stopped talking. A doctor diagnosed him as having autism when he was 3 and by age 6 after intensive therapy, he can say single words.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

The American Psychiatric Association met last week to discuss new changes to the psychiatric "bible," officially named the Diagnostic Statistic Manual.

The latest version of the DSM is due out next year. The revision, the first in 11 years, is rumored to be full of changes. At the APA meeting, psychiatrists from across the country debated dramatic revisions in what it means to be mentally ill.

One of the most contested changes is a potential shift in the definition of autism, which would exclude many patients who currently fall on the spectrum. What will potential changes in the manual mean for the kinds of treatments and resources available to patients?

Ingrid Wickelgren, an editor at Scientific American, will join The Daily Circuit Monday. Any major updates could have serious implications for a patient's treatment and insurance coverage, Wickelgren said.

"When you go to a psychiatrist, they can use their clinical experience to diagnose you but they need to go by the book to get you insurance benefits for treatment," she said. "They can't ignore the book; if the new book says you have to rate severity, then you have to rate severity... It's financial, it's cultural, it's the basis on how we think about what it means to be mentally ill versus sane. This is what everyone uses; it's part of society even if you haven't heard of it."

Ron Steingard, psychiatrist and senior pediatric psychopharmacologist at the Child Mind Institute, will also join the discussion.