Healthy living

Shy children could be labelled as mentally ill

Shy children could be labelled as mentally ill Experts condemn expanding number of psychiatric disorders

Shyness in children, depression stemming from bereavement and internet addiction could all soon be classed as mental illness, experts have warned.

British psychologists and psychiatrists have come out against proposed changes to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), saying it will medicalise a range of normal human behaviours, as well as labelling them as mental illness.

The manual, published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists all mental health disorders along with the symptoms and criteria needed to make a diagnosis.

Peter Kinderman, head of the Institute of Psychology at Liverpool University, said: "It will exacerbate problems that result from trying to fit a medical, diagnostic, system to problems that just don't fit nicely into those boxes.

"It will pathologise a range of problems which should never be thought of as mental illness. Many who are shy, bereaved, eccentric, or have unconventional romantic lives will suddenly find themselves labelled as mentally ill.

"This isn't valid, isn't true, isn't humane."

Under the proposed changes, people with mild symptoms of psychosis could be labelled as having a full-blown psychotic illness; a serial rapist could be diagnosed as having paraphilic coercive disorder, and a disobedient child as having oppositional defiant disorder.

Social anxiety disorder or shyness in children is classed as showing signs of fear or anxiety such as crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking or refusal to speak in social situations which continue for at least six months.

Experts fear that the expanding number of disorders in the manual is being driven by private health insurance companies in the US which demand a diagnosis recognised by the manual before paying for treatment.

Til Wykes, professor of clinical psychology and rehabilitation at King's College London, said: "The proposals in DSM-5 are likely to shrink the pool of normality to a puddle with more and more people being given a diagnosis of mental illness.

"We shouldn't use labels unless we are clear they have some benefit. Saying someone is at risk of a mental illness puts a lot of pressure on the individual and their family."

This article was published on Fri 10 February 2012

Image © Simone van den Berg -

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