Why We Need to Get Better at Critiquing Psychiatric Diagnosis


In this piece for Mind Hacks, Vaughan Bell, a long-term critic of psychiatric diagnosis, points out the major flaws and logical fallacies in some of the most common criticisms of psychiatric diagnosis. He then recommends ways to more effectively critique psychiatric diagnosis using arguments that are backed by evidence and logic.

“Debating the validity of diagnoses is a good thing. In fact, it’s essential we do it. Lots of DSM diagnoses, as I’ve argued before, poorly predict outcome, and sometimes barely hang together conceptually. But there is no general criticism that applies to all psychiatric diagnosis.

Does psychiatric diagnosis medicalise distress arising from social hardship? Hard to see how this applies to stuttering and Tourette’s syndrome. Is psychiatric diagnosis used to oppress people who behave differently? If this applies to sleep apnea, I must have missed the protests. Does psychiatric diagnosis privilege biomedical explanations? I’m not sure this applies to PTSD.

There are many good critiques on the validity of specific psychiatric diagnoses, it’s impossible to see how they apply to all diagnoses.”


  1. What is mental illness? It means different things to different people.

    If you (the person) can ask the question “Am I mentally ill?”, weigh the pros and cons for a few moments, it means you probably are not.

    stuttering can be recorded with todays technology and anyone listening to the recording would agree it is a problem in speaking. involuntary action. Mental illness? What?

    Tourette’s syndrome I believe can be found by neurology, a physical defect of/in the brain. involuntary action. Mental illness? What?

    sleep apnea, again measurable with scientific instruments that anyone looking at the documented evidence could perceive the problem in sleeping. involuntary action. Mental illness? What?

    Judgement of sanity through the sight, the sound and the smell of the accused is quackery and will always be quackery.
    Applying a permanent label is quackery and will always be quackery because people are continually changing from day to day, month to month, year to year. No injury goes unchanged. The injury either gets worse or gets better.

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  2. I think it curious indeed that this writer would unravel “schizophrenia”, ‘the sacred symbol of psychiatry’, according to Dr. Szasz, on the account of the much more, relatively speaking, “minor” diagnoses, stuttering and sleep apnea. I would also question whether sleep apnea wasn’t related to some physical ill health conditions. I don’t think the psychiatric prison system was established to keep people from expiring in their sleep, or to make sure their enunciation of the mother tongue was entirely unbroken. I think it had much more to do with getting the loonies (so-called schizophrenics) off the street and out of the community. So much for a critique of critique that misses the point altogether. Medicalization, the finding of disease where it is not, according to this man’s views, is allowed to chug along completely unhampered.

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