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Mental Health

Between causes and symptoms

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM), the main entity that finances psychiatric research in the United States, has announced that it would no longer support clinical tests whose sole purpose is to alleviate patient symptoms. “The tests should use an experimental medicine approach in which interventions will be used for more than just potential treatments and will generate information on the mechanisms that cause the illness,” explains Thomas Insel, Director of the NIHM. The new rule is consistent with a movement according to which psychiatry research should place greater emphasis on the neurobiological roots of diseases as opposed to merely creating drugs. In April 2013, the NIHM announced that it would no longer follow the guidelines in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5), which provides guidance for the work of psychiatrists throughout the world and is published by the American Psychiatry Association. The DSM groups patients by symptom, which does not necessarily consider what the problem is in the patient’s brain. “Understanding how the brain works is a worthy goal, but it will take decades before anyone benefits from it,” says Allen Frances, professor at Duke University, according to the journal Nature.