Before the DSM

On the heels of the release of the DSM-V, the latest edition of the “bible” of psychiatric diagnoses, Charles Barber writes in The Huffington Post to recall a time before psychiatric illness was defined by stringent lists of symptoms. He quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s descriptions of his personal experience with depression and alcoholism, and his wife Zelda’s bipolar disorder, in The Crack-Up. Fitzgerald writes that he “cracked like an old plate,” and lived in a state of emotional bankruptcy in a world of “dangerous mist” and “villainous feeling.” For doctors today, it is important to listen to their patients’ descriptions of their suffering, and not merely try to reduce the experience to neat categories.

Barber is visiting assistant professor of psychology, visiting writer.