McMaster Colloquium: Mackenzie Salt: Is the DSM Dehumanizing?

Join us on Thursday, October 16th, from 12:30-1:30p.m. in the Sherman Centre for a talk by Mackenzie Salt, PhD Candidate in Cognitive Science.

People, Persons, and Individuals: Is the DSM Dehumanizing?
Mackenzie Salt
PhD Candidate, Cognitive Science of Language, McMaster University

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) describes the various mental disorders recognized by the North American psychiatric community, as well as how to diagnose and classify them. Due to the biomedical model used by psychiatry in North America, mental disorders in the DSM are described in terms of symptoms and presentation, but there is little focus given to the patient beyond this. Due to the nature of mental disorders however, namely the fact that you cannot have mental disorders without a patient to be affected by them, the description of the patient should also be considered. Depending on the language used to describe patients, this could create stigma around mental illness and its sufferers.

Using corpus linguistic methods, analyzing frequencies and concordances of words, the editions of the DSMs that were published from 1980 to the present were analyzed to determine how human beings are referred to and if there are any patterns to how these terms are used. In general in the DSMs, ‘person’ is used to refer to people without mental disorders while ‘individual’ was used to describe people with mental disorders. While these terms are not defined in the DSMs, the patterns of the usage are consistent and it is clear that there are implicit definitions being used. Finally, this paper argues that differentiating usage of ‘person’ and ‘individual’ creates a situation of distancing and dehumanization for people with mental disorders. This indicates that the stigmatization of people with mental disorders in society may at least partially reflect the way that language is used around the diagnosis of mental disorders. This is important because the DSM is also a staple in many social institutions beyond medicine: it is used to determine insurance and treatment coverage and it is used in education to determine academic accommodations.

Are you interested in presenting at the Sherman Centre Colloquium on a topic related to digital scholarship and research? Contact Paige Morgan for more information or to submit an abstract.

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