Recently APA recruited a public relations guy from the Department of Defense to respond to my concerns that DSM-5 is way off track. He immediately went on the offensive and (in an interview for Time magazine) made the obvious PR mistake of calling me "a dangerous man." This provided me the opportunity to pose yet again the troubling questions about DSM-5 that APA repeatedly refuses to answer. The DOD guy hasn't surfaced since.
Instead, APA has adopted a much smoother, soft sell approach. It has hired GYMR -- an expensive PR firm. GYMR actually brags in its mission statement that it can "execute strategies that include image and alliance building, public education campaigns or media relations to harness the formidable forces of Washington and produce successful results for clients."
We now have the first fruits of GYMR's "image building" misinformation campaign. It has launched a PR website with the claim it will provide "the facts on DSM-5 development process. Read recent news stories & opinion pieces, along with our responses, to correct the record, highlight key omissions -- and provide essential perspective, so that the public has a complete and accurate view of this important issue."
Unfortunately, the site is very short on accurate facts, very long on misleading (or just plain wrong) "image building" fiction. It is all pure PR fluff -- a way to avoid answering the substantive questions that need addressing before DSM-5 is prematurely rushed to press. Let's compare GYMR fiction versus DSM-5 fact:
GYMR Fiction: "We have extensive data from the field trials that on average there is a slight decrease in the overall rates of DSM-5 in comparison to DSM-IV disorders."
DSM-5 Fact: This is simply wrong -- APA has no such data. Except for autism, all of the DSM-5 changes will dramatically raise the rates of mental disorder and mislabel normal people as psychiatrically sick. The field trial provided no data on this crucial question because it made an unforgivable error -- not including head to head prevalence comparisons between DSM-IV and DSM-5. This makes it impossible to estimate how explosive will be the DSM-5 rate jumps. Moreover, false epidemics are often nurtured in the primary care settings that were untested in the DSM-5 field trials.
GYMR Fiction: The PR claim is that DSM-5 has provided a transparent process.
DSM-5 Fact: DSM-5 has been peculiarly and self-destructively secretive from its early confidentiality agreements (meant to protect "intellectual property") to its current failure to make public any of the results of its "scientific" reviews. Real science can never be confidential. None of this secrecy makes any sense.
GYMR Fiction: "APA takes very seriously its responsibility in developing and maintaining DSM and has devoted $25 million to the DSM-5 update process thus far."
DSM-5 Fact: The $25 million has been a colossal waste of poorly spent money. We did DSM IV for one-fifth the price and never missed a deadline or stirred much controversy. The difference in expenditure and outcome has nothing to do with us being especially competent. It has everything to do with DSM-5 being poorly conceived and organized and spending lavishly on silly things like public relations.
GYMR Fiction: "There are several proposals in DSM-5 that aim to more accurately describe the symptoms and behaviors of disorders that typically present in children."
DSM-5 Fact: The epidemics of excessive diagnosis in children will be muddled further by DSM-5. The threshold for ADHD is being lowered despite the tripling of rates. Temper Dyregulation (AKA DMDD) is being suggested based on just a few years of work by just one research group -- despite the risk it will exacerbate the already inappropriate and dangerous use of antipsychotic drugs in kids. And DSM-5 somehow persists in not understanding how its suggestions will necessarily have a profound impact on rates of autism.
GYMR Fiction: "There are actually relatively few substantial changes to draft disorder criteria."
DSM-5 Fact: Dead wrong -- how did GYMR ever come up with this one? My guess is that the DSM-5 changes would affect the diagnosis of tens of millions of people. APA has no way of refuting this estimate since it unaccountably failed to ask the crucial prevalence question in its $3 million field trial.
GYMR Fiction: "Those that have been recommended are based on the scientific and clinical evidence amassed over the past 20 years and then are subject to multiple review processes within the APA."
DSM-5 Fact: Most of the reviews are poorly done and none of the suggestions would stand up to the kind of impartial, independent scientific review demanded by a petition supported by 51 mental health associations. The APA internal review lacks any credibility because it is done in secret and has somehow found a way to approve DMDD and the removal of the bereavement exclusion -- both of which have little or no scientific support. To be credible, APA must both make public its own scientific reviews and also contract for external and independent reviews on all the most controversial topics.
GYMR Fiction: "The APA governance attention to this is far greater than anything that ever occurred with DSM III or DSM-IV."
DSM-5 Fact: Absurd on the face of it. If there had ever been anything resembling proper internal supervision, DSM-5 would not be in this deep mess and would not require expensive PR fig leaves to try to cover it up.
There is more, but you get the idea. DSM-5 is in a paradoxical position. Publishing profits pressure it toward premature publication, but its close to final draft is the object of almost universal opposition. On one side we have APA and its new hired gun GYMR -- on the other side we have 51 professional organizations, the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the international media and outraged segments of the public. It is far too late for any superficial "image building," however clever, to restore DSM-5 credibility. Saving DSM-5 requires radically reforming its mistakes, not covering them up with a PR smokescreen of misinformation.
The last and only hope for a safe and credible DSM-5 now resides in the new APA leadership -- it is within its power to thoroughly reform DSM-5 before it is too late.
The stakes are high. A DSM-5 at war with its users will wind up losing many of them. Disillusioned members (each of whom has involuntarily sunk almost $1,000 in this lavish but misdirected DSM-5 effort) will speed up the already rapid exodus of APA members. APA will eventually lose its monopoly on psychiatric diagnosis. Psychiatry will be unfairly discredited. And, worst of all, the patients who need our help will suffer.
DSM-5 is in such public trouble now because it heedlessly missed every prior private opportunity to self-correct. The solution is not the production of more public relations pablum. Instead, DSM-5 needs to regroup, solve its problems, and avoid racing over a cliff.
Allen Frances is a professor emeritus at Duke University and was the chairman of the DSM-IV task force.