The Book of Woe
The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry
Blue Rider Press 2013
It is common today to treat depression and other mental disorders as concrete illnesses – akin to having pneumonia or the flu. In fact, being prescribed a pill after complaining to your family doctor about feeling depressed is a common occurrence. But are mental disorders really illnesses the way that a sinus infection is? Gary Greenberg, in his fascinating new book The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (Blue Rider Press, 2013), argues that the answer is no. The DSM, which categorizes and defines mental disorders, is socially constructed, he claims, and changes over time. Homosexuality, for example, was considered an illness until 1973, and Asperger’s, now widely considered by the public to be a real condition (which many identify with), may no longer be in the newest revision of the DSM. Greenberg is not indicting all psychiatry or arguing that people should not take antidepressants, but he is criticizing the assumption that mental suffering is the same as physical suffering, arguing that mental anguish is often a multi-layered problem that cannot be fixed by a pill or explained by brain malfunction (though we are often led to believe that this is the case). Allowing the DSM to dictate reality as if it were a scientifically grounded book is a mistake, and we should be more aware of the haphazard way in which it was assembled.