Growth of Mental Health Diagnoses
Since the mid-20th century, the number of conditions considered to be forms of mental illness has steadily increased. This increase is linked to advances in medicine, psychology, and technology, but it may also be a product of the growth of medicalization, the tendency to define conditions and behaviors as medical problems. In the United States, practitioners use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association that lists and classifies all conditions considered to be mental disorders. This first edition of this manual was published in 1952. Six revisions have subsequently been produced, with the most recent edition published in 2013. Each revision has included more types of mental disorders. To some extent, this reflects new information gained from research. However, critics of medicalization argue that this steady increase in the number of conditions defined as mental illness is based on social and cultural trends.Critics of medicalization argue that many conditions that are nonmedical and simply normal problems of human life are redefined as medical problems. Some point to how a profit motive can drive this tendency. With more conditions defined as medical problems, demand for providers to treat these problems grows, as does demand for medications. Others point to social stigma attached to mental illness. When issues such as anxiety or lack of social skills are defined as mental health problems, individuals with these traits may be stigmatized. On the other hand, the growth of mental health diagnoses and treatments is correlated to an increased awareness of mental illness and support for treating it. A 2014 study found a trend of increasing positive attitudes among Americans about seeking treatment for mental health problems.