What is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2018
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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as DSM, is a resource for individuals in the psychiatric field and other clinical and social work fields. This manual, which is produced by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), outlines mental illnesses by providing diagnostic criteria and also reports the statistics regarding the occurrence of these conditions. It is widely used by professionals and students in the United States.

The manual was developed due to appeals from the psychiatric community that are believed to date back to the mid-19th century. Professionals had a growing need for a uniform classification system for psychiatric conditions so that they could communicate clearly and keep more accurate records. This led to the publication of several manuals before the publication of the DSM.

In modern times, professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a number of reasons. To begin with, it is widely relied on to help with the task of diagnosing individuals who are suspected of having mental disorders. The DSM outlines criteria that appear to constitute a particular problem. A mental health professional can compare the symptoms or behaviors reported or observed in a patient to those listed in the manual to help determine whether a person is a candidate for diagnosis of a certain mental illness. The manual can be used as a basis to conclude that a person likely does not have a particular illness as well.


The DSM is also useful in other ways. It provides statistics that reveal how common or rare the outlined mental disorders are. The manual also provides codes for mental disorders that can be used in a clinical administrative setting for record maintenance and billing. It is not only used by individuals who diagnose mental disorders, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, but is also commonly used by students, pharmaceutical companies, and social workers.

The information in this publication has changed over time, and several revised editions have been released since the first version was published in 1952. Revisions include the addition of some mental disorders, the deletion of others, and the updating of statistics. What information is included is often the subject of debate. Some professionals are skeptical about a number of the conditions that are listed in the manual, and some disagree with how certain disorders are classified.



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