The Nuance

Is It Time to Reconsider the ‘Disease Model’ of Mental Health?

A prominent U.K. psychologist believes we should change the way we talk about depression, anxiety, and other forms of psychological distress

Markham Heid
Published in
5 min readJul 21, 2021
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

In 2013, the British Psychological Society published a position statement that raised alarms about “the increasing medicalisation” of mental health care.

In particular, the BPS took issue with the language and criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s newly updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the DSM-5 — which psychiatrists and many other mental-health experts around the world rely on to guide their work.

The BPS called the DSM-5’s classification models “flawed” and unreliable.

It argued that the DSM-5’s current approach to identifying and labeling mental health problems lacks consistency and scientific rigor, over-emphasizes biological factors and the usefulness of prescription drugs, and downplays the role of “psychosocial” factors such as life experiences and behavior.

The result, the BPS said, is that people often receive a diagnosis that is highly subjective, and that can “negatively shape a person’s outlook on life, and their identity and self-esteem.”

“Many of the issues that arise in relation to psychiatric diagnosis stem from applying physical disease models and medical classification to the realms of thoughts, feelings and behaviours, as implied by terms such as ‘symptoms’ and ‘mental illness’ or ‘psychiatric disease’,” the statement argued. “There is a need for a paradigm shift . . . towards a conceptual system which is no longer based on a ‘disease’ model.”

Peter Kinderman couldn’t agree more.

Kinderman, PhD, is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool. He’s also former president of the BPS, and the author of A Prescription for Psychiatry: Why We Need a Whole New Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing.

He’s spent much of the last 30 years researching and writing about the problems with the way most mental-health professionals discuss, diagnose, and attempt to…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.