The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a catalog of mental disorders used by doctors (including psychiatrists), psychologists, and other mental health workers, as well as insurance companies, to classify individuals with diagnosable mental disorders. The DSM is updated and the letters following DSM denote which update is being referred to. The most recent DSM is the DSM-IV-TR. The newest version of the DSM, which will be DSM-5, is scheduled to be completed in 2013.
Documents like the DSM are often presented as medical fact by those involved in their development. Critics argue that the diagnoses are impossible to separate from politics, culture, and society, and they are in fact much more contextual and political than objective.
One potential benefit of a text like the DSM is that it gives people working in the area of mental health a common language (albeit a language that is clinical and sometimes difficult to follow). There are many potential problems with the DSM, not least of which is that it can be considered to be the “final word” or offering objective facts regarding mental health. In reality the content of the DSM is subject to cultural and historical influences, and what is now considered a mental illness may not be considered one at a later date. A good recent example of this is homosexuality, which was considered a mental illness until it was removed from the DSM in 1973.