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Books, Journals, New Media
January 8, 2003

Mental Illness

Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor; adviser for new media, Robert Hogan, MD, San Diego.

JAMA. 2003;289(2):234-235. doi:10.1001/jama.289.2.234

In Creating Mental Illness, Allen Horwitz, professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University, writes about the excesses of modern diagnostic psychiatry.

In general, the book is well-researched and makes some needed critiques of psychiatry in the era of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). The title would lead one to expect a rehash of sociological labeling theory from the 1970s, which contended that mental illness was created by professionals labeling deviance as illness. But Horwitz actually takes a more moderate social constructionist perspective and never claims that all mental illnesses are fictions, as labeling theory did. He uses this perspective to make many good and important points against the sometimes messianic claims of genetic, biological, and diagnostic psychiatry. Nevertheless, he frequently overstates his case, arguing against a theory of mental disease that does not appear in DSM-IV. DSM-IV never claims to be describing mental diseases.

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