Mental Illness: DSM definition of what is mental disorder is and what isn’t

This is the definition of the term “mental disorder” according to the DIAGNOSTIC AND STATISTICAL MANUAL OF MENTAL DISORDERS FIFTH EDI T ION DSM-5  (pg.20):

A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress or disability in social, occupational, or other important activities. An expectable or culturally approved response to a common stressor or loss, such as the death of a loved one, is not a mental disorder. Socially deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) and conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are not mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict results from a dysfunction in the individual, as described above.

Mental disorder is a syndrome

The definition describes what mental disorder is. It is a syndrome, which is a group of related symptoms that the individual might encounter. Mental disorders are observable as clinically significant disturbances. This means that if the emotional regulation, behavior or cognitive processes of an individual is not clinically seen as significant, it is not a mental disorder. The mental disorder has to reflect a dysfunction that has underlying causation.

Mental disorders affect daily functioning

A  mental disorder is considered as such only when it has consequences to the daily functioning of the individual. This means that even if a person suffers from schizophrenia, if this individual is able to work, live, have relationships and play, he/she does not have a mental disorder.

Distress Caused by Life Situations are Not Mental disorders

Distressing events  e.g. death of a loved one, or a divorce can cause emotional /and physical pain.  These emotional setbacks that a person faces are unpleasant but is does not mean that the person has a mental disorder.

Socially Deviant Behavior is Not Always the Result of Mental Disorder

Socially deviance is not considered a product of mental disorder unless this behavior is accompanied by a person who has the above-said mental disorder.

Psychotherapy is not only in the business of working with mental disorder.

Psychotherapy is different from psychiatry in the sense that it is not a profession that works only in the face of mental disorder. Even if mental disorder diagnosed, the therapy is focussed on the persons’ emotional state and self support.

Most of my clients are not in my office because of a mental disorder, but because of life events that they need to cope with. Psychotherapy lends the client a space to be heard, to introspect, interact and experiment; so that he/she can realize the choices he/she has to live a stable, functional and even thriving life.

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