Notre Dame researchers developing new diagnostic model for mental illness

NOW: Notre Dame researchers developing new diagnostic model for mental illness


“On a day-to-day level for a practicing clinician, it’s really cumbersome to use this system,” said Dr. David Watson, a psychology professor at Notre Dame.

Dr. David Watson is talking about the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. It’s what hundreds of thousands of doctors all across the world use every day to classify, diagnose and treat their patients.

The first DSM model was developed back in 1952 by hundreds of international experts and doctors, but researchers at Notre Dame have gathered their own team of researchers across the globe to challenge the status quo, saying it’s fundamentally flawed.

“So one of the real problems with the DSM, there are nine symptoms of major depression. To meet the diagnosis, you have to have at least 5. Let’s say you have four symptoms of major depression, you’re simply classified as non-depressed,” said Watson.

In the DSM model’s earlier days, some of the descriptions that doctors were being used for diagnosis were only a few sentences long. Not long enough for a comprehensive care plan.

Watson said what really galvanized him to make a change was when he noticed in 2013 that the latest DSM-5 revision didn’t go far enough.

“There was a lot of talk about some major changes in the system that ultimately didn’t happen so we were disappointed with the conservative nature of the changes in DSM-5,” said Watson.

That’s when he and 50 other researchers, practicing psychologists, and mental health experts said they would create—the HiTOP model.

“The model right now is not complete and comprehensive but for many common forms of disorder, it could be implemented right now,” said Watson.

Watson says he’s aware it would take years for such a prevalent model like the DSM to be replaced.

“I mean there are people that have devoted their careers to particular disorders that, in our system, essentially would disappear. And you could see why, you know it would be threatening for them,” said Watson.

But he’s still recruiting in the mean time.

“We’re adding people all the time, as people hear about it they want to get involved.

Some local psychologists say they too see some of those same flaws in the current DSM model and other psychologists in the area say a new one would be difficult to learn all over again. Other psychology offices say there is conflict here because the DSM-5 is the system that is currently accepted by insurance agencies and a new system would have to go through the process of also being accepted, making it less appealing for patients at the moment.

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