New Study Challenges DSM’s View on Trauma, Highlights Impact of Social Discrimination

Researchers develop a scale to measure trauma from sexism, racism, and cisheterosexism, revealing significant links to posttraumatic stress and challenging the DSM's limited view on trauma.


The longstanding definition of trauma in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is being challenged by new research, which argues that the DSM’s biopsychiatric approach minimizes the impact of social and contextual forces on individuals’ mental health.

John Briere from the University of Southern California’s Department of Psychiatry, alongside Marsha Runtz and Keara Rodd from the University of Victoria, developed the Social Discrimination and Maltreatment Scale (SDMS), a comprehensive tool measuring the traumatic impact of sexism, racism, and cisheterosexism. Their findings reveal a strong correlation between these forms of social maltreatment and posttraumatic stress (PTS), even when controlling for general trauma exposure.

This study brings to light the profound psychological effects of social discrimination, underscoring the need for a broader, more inclusive understanding of the trauma that extends beyond the traditional confines of the DSM.

The researchers suggest that “Although not considered traumatic in the DSM-5-TR, exposure to sexism, racism, and cisheterosexism may be significant sources of posttraumatic stress.” 

African american soldier lady wearing uniform lying on couch and explaining her problems to female psychotherapist during meeting in office, young black military lady having therapy session

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Liam Gehrig Bach
Liam is a studying to complete his master’s degree in animal studies at New York University. He graduated from Bard College as a biology/psychology double major and completed independent research about the psychology of perceiving conservation efforts. Liam is especially interested in using feminist and queer theory to unpack current systemic issues that affect otherized, marginalized groups. When he isn’t writing, Liam is likely walking with his dogs.


      • Mad in America is gaslighting and being abusive towards me specifically by publishing deliberately triggering gaslighting articles which passive aggressively insinuate that my experiences aren’t real and my trauma isn’t valid because I don’t belong to a woke ‘community’ enough as defined not by truth but by bullies.

        Mad in America tries to isolate me and exclude me from unity.

        Moreover, Mad in America is dividing people with psychiatric diagnosis up and not letting us unite and form our own movement.

        Mad in America is apart of the same oppressive hierarchy it pretends to be against.

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  1. This study is so poorly conceived it should never have been used to criticize the DSM, bad as that text is.

    An online survey is highly unlikely to be accurate, especially one with such a small sample. In addition, trying to measure the traumatic impact of race, gender, and something called cisheterosexism is simplistic. That’s because it doesn’t consider adverse effects of numerous other characteristics, for example, shyness, intelligence, socio- economic status, illness, and so on.

    If MIA wants to show the impact of society on mental problems, it needs a far more sophisticated and complex approach.

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  2. These studies always focus on the same isms. What about ageism? Why is age discrimination never considered? I feel discriminated against every day as a late middle aged disabled white woman.

    All of these articles and studies and too-late validation that I actually *was* being abused, gaslit, brain damaged, scapegoated, lied to, lied about, and disempowered, and my situation just gets worse. Everybody seems to have their own agenda and want their own piece of the “paradigm shift” while the ones who were destroyed stay destroyed.

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      • I can’t even tell anymore who these comments are to, but if this is a question to me and responds to my comment, I’ve been disabled for 20 years and before that I lived at the poverty level. I was a single parent. My life was destroyed by psychiatry. I don’t know anything about economic discrimination caused by people in my age group. I don’t have enough money or power to discriminate against anyone.

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    • Of course there’s the discrimination I experienced within the system and because of the system — the borderline personality diagnosis. Poly-drugged because of a BPD diagnosis (following ECT) to the point of physical illness but can’t get medical care. I can’t afford to pay out of pocket and Medicare Advantage plan covered physicians assistant appointment inevitably leads to suggestions to “try Zoloft” (they can’t be bothered to learn any part of my history) following the mandatory mental health screening. I actually was lucky to receive a physical therapy order after months of requests but I couldn’t take advantage of it because there’s no transportation available.

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      • The beauty about individuality is being able to be different from a stereotype.

        For example, your experience as an individual is different from many other Boomers.

        Still, if there’s going to be a conversation about ageism, Boomers buying up extra properties and making money off of the property market has to be talked about.

        Before I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, I was already living below the poverty line. It got to the point where my body may have gone into starvation mode and I had problems with nutrient deficiencies.

        I am a Millennial. My generation supposedly has become known for having the most mental illnesses and we were economically screwed over by other generations.

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