Is premenstrual dysphoric disorder really a disorder?
/ 2015 | Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 12 (2): 313-330 / By Tamara Kayali Browne /
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) was recently moved to a full category in the DSM-5 (the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It also appears set for inclusion as a separate disorder in the ICD-11 (the upcoming edition of the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems). This paper argues that PMDD should not be listed in the DSM or the ICD at all, adding to the call to recognize PMDD as a socially constructed disorder. I first present the argument that PMDD pathologises understandable anger/distress and that to do so is potentially dangerous. I then present evidence that PMDD is a culture-bound phenomenon, not a universal one. I also argue that even if medication produces a desired effect, there are biological correlates with premenstrual anger/distress, such anger/distress seems to occur monthly, and women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with affective disorders, none of these factors substantiates that premenstrual anger/distress is caused by a mental disorder. I argue that to assume they do is to ignore the now accepted role that one’s environment and psychology play in illness development, as well as arguments concerning the social construction of mental illness. In doing so, I do not claim that there are no women who experience premenstrual distress or that their distress is not a lived experience. My point is that such distress can be recognised and considered significant without being pathologised and that it is unethical to describe premenstrual anger/distress as a mental disorder.
Further, if the credibility of women’s suffering is subject to doubt without a clinical diagnosis,then the way to address this problem is to change societal attitudes towards women’s suffering, not to label women as mentally ill. The paper concludes with some broader implications for women and society of the change in status of PMDD in the DSM-5 as well as a sketch of critical policy suggestions to address these implications.