By the end of postgraduate training, using a patient-centred approach and appropriate selectivity, a resident, considering the patient’s cultural and gender contexts, will be able to...
Today I am working in the Three Bridges Community Health Centre with a physician who has a practice that consists largely of transgender patients. I have met a full handful of patients who identify as transgender over my clinical training thus far, particularly during an Endocrinology elective I did in medical school, and I had a formal academic session near the start of residency that reviewed some of the basics of transgender medical care, but I barely know how I would begin to medically manage the scope of transgender care as a trans-affirming family physician. I turned to the Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline as published in The Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism in November 2017 for guidance. The very first sentence of the first guideline recommendation is as follows:
"We advise that only trained mental health professionals (MHPs) who meet the following criteria should diagnose gender dysphoria (GD)/gender incongruence in adults: (1) competence in using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and/or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) for diagnostic purposes, (2) ..."
Following a logical stream of consciousness, although perhaps slightly tangential, I knew it was to do my due diligence to first establish competence in using the DSM-5 and the ICD-10 coding systems (which sort of sound like codes in and of themselves!).
Better than I could paraphrase, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, states:
"The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a classification of mental disorders with associated criteria designed to facilitate more reliable diagnoses of these disorders. With successive editions over the past 60 years, it has become a standard reference for clinical practice in the mental health field. Since a complete description of the underlying pathological processes is not possible for most mental disorders, it is important to emphasize that the current diagnostic criteria are the best available description of how mental disorders are expressed and can be recognized by trained clinicians. DSM is intended to serve as a practical, functional, and flexible guide for organizing information that can aid in the accurate diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. It is a tool for clinicians, an essential educational resource for students and practitioners, and a reference for researchers in the field."
And also to directly quote the manual as it talks about its use and limitations, particularly because I find the way in which it is written informative as to the context of how we ought to think of psychiatric disease:
"The case formulation for any given patient must involve a careful clinical history and concise summary of the social, psychological, and biological factors that may have contributed to developing a given mental disorder. Hence, it is not sufficient to simply check off the symptoms in the diagnostic criteria to make a mental disorder diagnosis. Although a systematic check for the presence of these criteria as they apply to each patient will assure a more reliable assessment, the relative severity and valence of individual criteria and their contribution to a diagnosis require clinical judgment. The symptoms in our diagnostic criteria are part of the relatively limited repertoire of human emotional responses to internal and external stresses that are generally maintained in a homeostatic balance without a disruption in normal functioning. It requires clinical training to recognize when the combination of predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating, and protective factors has resulted in a psychopathological condition in which physical signs and symptoms exceed normal ranges. The ultimate goal of a clinical case formulation is to use the available contextual and diagnostic information in developing a comprehensive treatment plan that is informed by the individual’s cultural and social context. However, recommendations for the selection and use of the most appropriate evidence-based treatment options for each disorder are beyond the scope of this manual.
Although decades of scientific effort have gone into developing the diagnostic criteria sets for the disorders included in Section II, it is well recognized that this set of categorical diagnoses does not fully describe the full range of mental disorders that individuals experience and present to clinicians on a daily basis throughout the world. As noted previously in the introduction, the range of genetic/environmental interactions over the course of human development affecting cognitive, emotional and behavioral function is virtually limitless. As a result, it is impossible to capture the full range of psychopathology in the categorical diagnostic categories that we are now using. Hence, it is also necessary to include “other specified/unspecified” disorder options for presentations that do not fit exactly into the diagnostic boundaries of disorders in each chapter. In an emergency department setting, it may be possible to identify only the most prominent symptom expressions associated with a particular chapter—for example, delusions, hallucinations, mania, depression, anxiety, substance intoxication, or neurocognitive symptoms—so that an “unspecified” disorder in that category is identified until a fuller differential diagnosis is possible."
If you're bored now, don't keep reading. If you're a clinician planning to use the DSM in practice, then hopefully you're as nerdy as I am when it comes to using the DSM. See below for more information on the logistics as described by the manual (Again, I am copying and pasting from the manual rather than translating it into my own words because I am sure their explanation is more accurate and succinctly comprehensive than my own adaptation would be.)
On the definition of mental disorders:
"Each disorder identified in Section II of the manual (excluding those in the chapters entitled “Medication-Induced Movement Disorders and Other Adverse Effects of Medication” and “Other Conditions That May Be a Focus of Clinical Attention”) must meet the definition of a mental disorder. Although no definition can capture all aspects of all disorders in the range contained in DSM-5, the following elements are required:
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.
The diagnosis of a mental disorder should have clinical utility: it should help clinicians to determine prognosis, treatment plans, and potential treatment outcomes for their patients. However, the diagnosis of a mental disorder is not equivalent to a need for treatment. Need for treatment is a complex clinical decision that takes into consideration symptom severity, symptom salience (e.g., the presence of suicidal ideation), the patient’s distress (mental pain) associated with the symptom(s), disability related to the patient’s symptoms, risks and benefits of available treatments, and other factors (e.g., psychiatric symptoms complicating other illness). Clinicians may thus encounter individuals whose symptoms do not meet full criteria for a mental disorder but who demonstrate a clear need for treatment or care. The fact that some individuals do not show all symptoms indicative of a diagnosis should not be used to justify limiting their access to appropriate care.
Approaches to validating diagnostic criteria for discrete categorical mental disorders have included the following types of evidence: antecedent validators (similar genetic markers, family traits, temperament, and environmental exposure), concurrent validators (similar neural substrates, biomarkers, emotional and cognitive processing, and symptom similarity), and predictive validators (similar clinical course and treatment response). In DSM-5, we recognize that the current diagnostic criteria for any single disorder will not necessarily identify a homogeneous group of patients who can be characterized reliably with all of these validators. Available evidence shows that these validators cross existing diagnostic boundaries but tend to congregate more frequently within and across adjacent DSM-5 chapter groups. Until incontrovertible etiological or pathophysiological mechanisms are identified to fully validate specific disorders or disorder spectra, the most important standard for the DSM-5 disorder criteria will be their clinical utility for the assessment of clinical course and treatment response of individuals grouped by a given set of diagnostic criteria.
This definition of mental disorder was developed for clinical, public health, and research purposes. Additional information is usually required beyond that contained in the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria in order to make legal judgments on such issues as criminal responsibility, eligibility for disability compensation, and competency (see “Cautionary Statement for Forensic Use of DSM-5” elsewhere in this manual)."
For those who are like myself, likely not to use the DSM-5 for legal matters but who are interested nonetheless, the Cautionary Statement for Forensic Use of DSM-5 is written as follows:
"When used appropriately, diagnoses and diagnostic information can assist legal decision makers in their determinations. For example, when the presence of a mental disorder is the predicate for a subsequent legal determination (e.g., involuntary civil commitment), the use of an established system of diagnosis enhances the value and reliability of the determination. By providing a compendium based on a review of the pertinent clinical and research literature, DSM-5 may facilitate legal decision makers’ understanding of the relevant characteristics of mental disorders. The literature related to diagnoses also serves as a check on ungrounded speculation about mental disorders and about the functioning of a particular individual. Finally, diagnostic information about longitudinal course may improve decision making when the legal issue concerns an individual’s mental functioning at a past or future point in time.
However, the use of DSM-5 should be informed by an awareness of the risks and limitations of its use in forensic settings. When DSM-5 categories, criteria, and textual descriptions are employed for forensic purposes, there is a risk that diagnostic information will be misused or misunderstood. These dangers arise because of the imperfect fit between the questions of ultimate concern to the law and the information contained in a clinical diagnosis. In most situations, the clinical diagnosis of a DSM-5 mental disorder such as intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder), schizophrenia, major neurocognitive disorder, gambling disorder, or pedophilic disorder does not imply that an individual with such a condition meets legal criteria for the presence of a mental disorder or a specified legal standard (e.g., for competence, criminal responsibility, or disability). For the latter, additional information is usually required beyond that contained in the DSM-5 diagnosis, which might include information about the individual’s functional impairments and how these impairments affect the particular abilities in question. It is precisely because impairments, abilities, and disabilities vary widely within each diagnostic category that assignment of a particular diagnosis does not imply a specific level of impairment or disability.
Use of DSM-5 to assess for the presence of a mental disorder by nonclinical, nonmedical, or otherwise insufficiently trained individuals is not advised. Nonclinical decision makers should also be cautioned that a diagnosis does not carry any necessary implications regarding the etiology or causes of the individual’s mental disorder or the individual’s degree of control over behaviors that may be associated with the disorder. Even when diminished control over one’s behavior is a feature of the disorder, having the diagnosis in itself does not demonstrate that a particular individual is (or was) unable to control his or her behavior at a particular time."
And last but not least, a specific tidbit I believe I will find useful for those times when I assess patients but do not have sufficient clinical information to confirm a psychiatric (or other) diagnosis is the use of the specifier “provisional.” Per the DSM-5, "The specifier "provisional" can be used when there is a strong presumption that the full criteria will ultimately be met for a disorder but not enough information is available to make a firm diagnosis. The clinician can indicate the diagnostic uncertainty by recording “(provisional)” following the diagnosis. For example, this diagnosis might be used when an individual who appears to have a major depressive disorder is unable to give an adequate history, and thus it cannot be established that the full criteria are met."
Now the standard of communicating diagnoses in the field of medicine is to report them as ICD-10 codes, per the World Health Organization's International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), version 10. I have bookmarked the ICD-10 website on my web browser for easy access. A beautiful element of the DSM-5 is that it gives the ICD-10 diagnostic code that pertains to the diagnostic codes as defined by the DSM-5. How practical!
Well DSM-5, it may be love at first sight. Since writing this post I have purchased a hardcover of you and can't wait to explore all of your nuances. You got my heart all in a flutter with a flight of ideas and circumstantial thinking and I am totally okay with that <3