The “HiTOP” approach to diagnose mental disorders

The “HiTOP” approach to diagnose mental disorders

Despite the humongous progress that medical science has made over the last few years, psychiatric illness diagnosis has not advanced much. Even technologies like brain scans and genetic analysis are inadequate to complement objective test-based diagnosis. Probably that is why psychiatrists largely conclude their diagnosis basis the interpretations drawn from the self-reported symptoms of patients.

Until now, clinicians have been diagnosing mental illnesses by comparing the patient’s symptoms with the standardized lists of symptoms mentioned in diagnostic manuals such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, was first published in 1952 to standardize the process of making and coding psychiatric diagnoses. The latest/fifth edition of DSM, called DSM-5, was published in May 2013. In a recent development, a consortium of eminent psychologists and psychiatrists from universities across the world, co-led by Stony Brook University, University of Minnesota and University of Notre Dame researchers, proposed a new system to diagnose mental disorders.

HiTOP uses empirical evidence to classify patients

Right diagnosis of mental illness is the key to an early and sustained recovery as it decides the success of a treatment plan. Moreover, diagnosis guides the course of research efforts and helps drug companies to explore the ideas for developing new medications. Driven by the intention to improve diagnosis of mental health illnesses, the researchers came up with an innovative idea, the Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP).

HiTOP, the new approach presented in a paper and published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, is a classification system based on a broad set of psychiatric problems involving scientific evidence, symptoms of an illness and impaired functioning. The researchers claim that the new system would deliver better results by overcoming fundamental shortcomings of DSM-5 and the limitations currently making psychiatric diagnosis a challenging task.

Dr. Roman Kotov, study lead author and associate professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University, further explained, “First, the system proposes to view mental disorders as spectra. Second, the HiTOP system uses empirical evidence to understand overlap among these disorders and classify different presentations of patients with a given disorder.”

Talking about the limitations of DSM-5, Kotov added that it is difficult to put mental health problems into categories, as they exhibit a wide range of differences in terms of pathology and normality similar to cases of weight and blood pressure. This warrants the need of the spectrum approach. In the view that one symptom can alter the diagnosis from absent to present and vice versa, decisions made on the basis of an artificial disease boundary (as in the case of DSM-5) may not be sufficient to distinguish mental health from results in unstable diagnoses. Many patients approach a therapist with symptoms meeting the criteria for more than one mental disorder, which increases the chances of insufficient assessment. In addition, a majority of people who do not reach the threshold of treatment, possibly due to inadequacy in meeting the set criteria, are left untreated despite suffering from a significant impairment.

HiTOP approach addresses fundamental problems

The HiTOP approach seems to be addressing these fundamental problems by classifying mental illness at multiple levels of hierarchy. Moreover, doctors and researchers can dig into finer details of symptoms while addressing larger problems using this elaborate system. HiTOP allows doctors to distinguish between performance fears (performing in front of an audience) and interpersonal fears (meeting new people) rather than treating it as a single problem. The system is particularly effective for diagnosing people with social anxiety as well as those vulnerable to other anxiety disorders and depression, as it is able to capture problems at a wide range of severity levels.

Ensuring optimum mental health

Mental health is often a neglected medical condition due to a host of misconceptions, stigma and lack of awareness. Mental illness needs to be treated at par with physical ailments as an untreated condition can lead to unwanted consequences. It’s time to give due importance to mental health as it is the key to good physical and emotional health.

The Colorado Mental Health Help experts can suggest some state-of-the-art mental health treatment centers in Colorado if you are looking for one. You can contact over online chat or a phone call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-899-5063.