DSM-5 Changes: Depression & Depressive Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a guidebook used by mental health professionals to accurately diagnose mental health conditions. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is currently in its fifth edition, known as the DSM-5. The DSM-5 contains a range of changes and updates, with a significant number relating to depressive disorders. This article will explore the DSM-5 changes to depression and depressive disorders, their impact, and the implications for diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.

Key DSM-5 Changes: Depression

The DSM-5 includes several significant changes to the diagnosis and categorisation of depression. One of the key changes is the removal of the bereavement exclusion criterion. Previous editions of the DSM excluded a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) if the symptoms were better accounted for by bereavement. However, research has highlighted that grief and depression can co-occur and that grief is not a reliable predictor of the absence of depression. As such, the DSM-5 no longer includes this exclusion criterion.

Another change in the DSM-5 is the introduction of a new specifier for anxious distress. This specifier can be applied to both MDD and bipolar disorder and accounts for high levels of anxiety present in individuals diagnosed with these conditions. The inclusion of this specifier can help to highlight the severity of symptoms and the potential need for additional treatment and support.

The DSM-5 has also introduced a new specifier for seasonal patterns of MDD, which was previously included in a separate category called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This change aims to reduce the proliferation of diagnoses and acknowledges the substantial overlap between SAD and other forms of MDD.

Key DSM-5 Changes: Depressive Disorders

The DSM-5 has significant changes to the classification and diagnosis of depressive disorders. One of the most significant changes is the removal of the distinction between major depressive disorder (MDD) and dysthymic disorder. These two conditions are now combined under the single diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder (PDD). PDD has a duration of more than two years and includes a range of symptoms that have been redefined to capture a broader range of experiences.

The DSM-5 has also introduced a new condition called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD). This diagnosis is intended for children and adolescents who experience frequent and severe temper outbursts that are inconsistent with their developmental level. DMDD aims to reduce the overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder in children and teenagers and provide a more specific diagnostic alternative for these individuals.

The DSM-5 also includes a new category of depressive disorders called other specified and unspecified depressive disorders. These categories include individuals who do not meet the criteria for any of the other depressive disorders but still experience significant depressive symptoms that cause distress and impairment.

Impact of DSM-5 Changes

The DSM-5 changes to depression and depressive disorders have had a significant impact on the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions. The elimination of the bereavement exclusion criterion means that more individuals experiencing intense grief may also be diagnosed with depression. Clinicians need to be cautious in identifying and treating depression and grief since their treatments may differ.

The introduction of the specifier for anxious distress is vital because it acknowledges the importance of anxiety in connection with depression. Individuals who experience high levels of anxiety in conjunction with their depression may benefit from tailored treatments that focus on both symptoms.

The reclassification of MDD and dysthymic disorder under PDD simplifies the diagnostic process and acknowledges that depression can manifest in multiple ways. This change also emphasises that PDD can have chronic symptoms, potentially requiring long-term treatment and support.

The introduction of DMDD is essential as it reduces the overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder in children and teenagers, which was historically significant. Providing a specific diagnostic alternative for temper outbursts can also help create a more targeted and effective treatment approach for these children and adolescents.

Implications for Diagnosis and Treatment

The DSM-5 changes to depression and depressive disorders have significant implications for the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions. Clinicians will need to be aware of the changes, adapt their diagnostic criteria accordingly, and use a more comprehensive approach in treating these conditions.

The elimination of the bereavement exclusion criterion means that clinicians need to consider the duration and intensity of the grieving process when determining depression’s presence or absence. The identification of symptoms that may be part of anxious distress during MDD diagnosis can lead to better, more targeted treatment based on an individual’s symptoms.

Clinicians should also recognise the chronicity of PDD and use a treatment approach that reflects this, such as long-term medication and psychotherapy. Specific targets and structured interventions can help individuals with DMDD control their temper outbursts effectively.


The DSM-5 changes to depression and depressive disorders have significantly updated our understanding of these conditions, and it is essential that clinicians be updated on these changes to apply them to their practice effectively. Being aware of the changes associated with these conditions is crucial to improving their diagnosis and treatment.


FAQs about DSM 5 Changes Depression Depressive Disorders:

1. What is the DSM-5?

The DSM-5 is the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and is the standard classification system used by mental health professionals in the United States and other countries. It provides guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.

2. What are the changes in the DSM-5 for depression?

The DSM-5 changes how depression and depressive disorders are diagnosed and classified. The new criteria no longer require the presence of a specific number of symptoms, but instead requires the presence of a certain number of symptoms in a given period of time. Additionally, the categorization system has changed with the removal of the distinction between major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder, and the creation of a new category called persistent depressive disorder.

3. How will these changes impact people with depression?

It is hoped that the changes in the DSM-5 will allow for better diagnosis and more effective treatment of those with depressive disorders. The new criteria may allow for an earlier diagnosis and more tailored treatment plans for individuals with these disorders, leading to improved outcomes and quality of life. However, it is also important for mental health professionals to be trained on the new criteria and understand how to properly use them in diagnosis and treatment.


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