The American Psychiatric Association has recently called for comments to be forwarded regarding their draft proposal for DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States and contains a listing of diagnostic criteria for every psychiatric disorder recognized by the U.S. healthcare system).

Included in DSM-V is a section entitled Complex Somatic Symptom Disorders.

Considering that psychiatrists in the UK have caused such harm to people with ME and their families over the past generation Invest in ME decided that input needed to be made to the APA regarding this section.

Below is Invest in ME's response - submitted on 19th April 2010.

The CSSD criteria are described here -

To meet criteria for CSSD, criteria A, B, and C are necessary.

A.  Somatic symptoms:
Multiple somatic symptoms that are distressing, or one severe symptom

B.  Misattributions, excessive concern or preoccupation with symptoms and illness:  At least two of the following are required to meet this criterion:
(1) High level of health-related anxiety.
(2) Normal bodily symptoms are viewed as threatening and harmful
(3) A tendency to assume the worst about their health (catastrophizing). 
(4) Belief in the medical seriousness of their symptoms despite evidence to the contrary.
(5) Health concerns assume a central role in their lives

C.  Chronicity: Although any one symptom may not be continuously present, the state of being symptomatic is chronic and persistent (at least 6 months).

The link to the APA web page - entitled DSM-5: The Future of Psychiatric Diagnosis is at -

Submission - to the American Psychiatric Association

on DSM-V

Invest in ME is an independent UK charity campaigning for bio-medical research into Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME or ME/CFS), as defined by WHO-ICD-10-G93.3 -  (also referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)  - although in this letter we shall use the term ME/CFS).

Even though we are not mental health professionals or represent people with mental health disorders we feel it important to comment on the draft proposal of DSM-V.

This response should be seen against the backdrop of the devastation caused by some psychiatrists in the UK regarding their treatment of people with ME/CFS and their promotion of false perceptions about the disease to the public, healthcare authorities and government.

When a generation of patients have been adversely affected by misinformation promoted by a section of psychiatrists in the UK and when the field of psychiatry has been brought into disrepute by these same psychiatrists then it is of paramount importance that the American Psychiatric Association are aware of the dangers inherent in establishing incorrect categories of disorders which are based on poor science, vested interests or which do not serve the patients for whom they must surely be priority in all healthcare provision.

We are especially concerned about the criteria described in the new category of Complex Somatic Symptom Disorder which seems to lump together many illnesses. It cannot be helpful for clinicians or researchers to have such a variety of patients under one category especially when very little is known of the pathophysiology of these conditions placed in this category.

In the CSSD Criteria B there are terms used which are subjective and not measurable - such as “health concerns” and “catastrophising”.

Based on our experience with the treatment of an organic illness such as ME/CFS our concern is that there is a great danger of mis- or missed diagnoses when looking at this category and its diagnostic criteria.

Not all physical illnesses can be easily determined without extensive investigations and this category may allow clinicians to miss brain tumours, rare cancers and other illnesses which are difficult to diagnose.

The criteria are very vague and allow too much subjectivity.

In fact, ME/CFS could mistakenly be placed in this category if one were to ignore the huge volume of biomedical research and evidence which shows it to be an organic illness and if one were to use only the broad CSSD criteria to diagnose.

Such an action would be a major and costly mistake.

The patients we are concerned with suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis which is a neurological disease but all too often these patients are being treated as if they had a somatoform illness.

Parents of children with ME are restricted in visiting their severely ill children in hospital or worse still the children are taken away from their families as the healthcare professional believes it is the family that is keeping the child ill.

Severely ill grown ups with this disease are denied usual medical care and threatened with sectioning if they are too ill to care for themselves and ask for help.

This not only sets patient against healthcare professional but also is a waste of resources and of lives. In the UK the profession of psychiatry also suffers as psychiatrists are often derided as uncaring, unscientific and unprofessional. The possibility of litigation ensuing against psychiatrists who cause such damage should also not be forgotten.

A broad unspecific category such as the proposed Complex Somatic Symptom Disorder does not help patients who need an honest and clear diagnosis. Any illness lacking a diagnostic test is in danger of being put into this non specific category which helps no one.

We are at least thankful that the APA has not attempted to repeat the major mistake being made by prominent UK psychiatrists in attempting to classify Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in amongst Complex Somatic Symptom Disorders.

Such a course of action would create another source of conflict between patients and the field of psychiatry and lead to unnecessary loss of health, potential loss of life and possible legal actions being taken against those professional organizations and/or individuals who use incorrect guidance for their diagnoses,

Yours Sincerely,

Kathleen McCall

Chairman Invest in ME
Charity Nr 1114035

Invest in ME
PO Box 561
Eastleigh SO50 0GQ

Further Reading:

Magical Medicine: How to Make a Disease Disappear - click here

Can the MRC PACE Trial be justified? - click here 

Invest in ME - Communications with the UK Chief Medical Officer - click here

Last Updated: 20/4/2010