Is being eccentric a mental illness?

By Gillian Tsoi

Millions of healthy people - who are shy, grieving or eccentric - could be diagnosed as mentally ill if guidelines in a new international diagnostic manual are followed.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders threatens to extend psychiatric diagnoses to people, who are currently regarded as normal.

The new diagnostic labels include: 'oppositional defiance disorder' for defiant teenagers; 'hypersexual disorder' for people who think about sex at least once every 20 minutes; and 'dysthymia' for those who feel 'depressed for most of the day'.

The manual, which is used as a diagnosis handbook by GPs in the US, could also include internet addiction and gambling as a medical illness.

Psychiatrists, psychologists and other experts have criticised the manual, labeling its new categories of mental illness as, at best "silly", and at worst "worrying and dangerous".

"Many people who are shy, bereaved, eccentric, or have unconventional romantic lives will suddenly find themselves labeled as mentally ill," said Peter Kinderman, who is head of Liverpool University's Institute of Psychology.

He was speaking at a briefing in London about widespread concerns over the manual.

"It's not humane, it's not scientific, and it won't help decide what help a person needs," Dr Kinderman said.

'Paraphilic coercive disorder' - where sufferers become aroused by sexual coercion - is one condition that could be defined as an illness by DSM5.

Prof Kinderman fears that rapists diagnosed with this condition would use it as a defence in court.

Approximately 11,000 psychologists have signed a petition against the new DSM in an attempt to stop its publication.


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