DSM-5: Why '5' and Not 'V'?

A Word From the Medscape Copy Desk

Susanna Rosensteel


June 01, 2012

Let's put aside the debate over another revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to ponder a curious aspect of the proposed edition: Why DSM-5 and not DSM-V?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has used Roman numerals since the first DSM publication, DSM-I, in 1952. Since then, readers have stood by a DSM-II (1968), DSM-III and DSM-III-R (1980 and 1987 revision), DSM-IV (1994), and the most recent -- and comprehensively named -- version, DSM-IV-TR (2000), a text revision that aims to maintain the currency of the DSM-IV until the next version of the manual appears on the scene.

That next version is due to be published in May 2013, but this time around it will be referred to as DSM-5, not DSM-V. What's behind the APA's abandonment of the stately Roman numeral? According to dsm5.org's Frequently Asked Questions:

[In] the 21st century, when technology allows immediate electronic dissemination of information worldwide, Roman numerals are especially limiting. Research advances will continue to require text revisions to DSM, and a TR designation, as was done with DSM-IV-TR, can only be appended once. After DSM-5 is published in 2013, future changes prior to the manual's next complete revision will be signified as DSM-5.1, DSM-5.2 and so on.

The switch to Arabic numerals does make the nomenclature of future revisions easier to decipher; after all, it is more obvious what DSM-5.2 is than DSM-V.2 -- or DSM-V-TR. But maybe the "limitation" of Roman numerals is that, to a tech-savvy population fluent in Arabic numerals with decimal-point iterations, they're just not cool. In today's world of iPhone 4S, 4G technology, iOS5, and Windows 8, Roman numerals look patently unfashionable. Perhaps the APA felt social pressure. Perhaps not. Either way, the DSM is about to get with the times.


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