There are a range of common mental health disorders that affect children and adolescents. Mental health problems fall into a lot of categories, including adjustment related problems, anxiety disorders, mood disorders (depression), developmental disorders, behavioral (conduct) disorders, feeding and eating disorders, elimination disorders, sleep disorders, substance abuse disorders, personality disorders and more serious disorders often referred to as psychotic disorders.
Many parents and professionals are uncomfortable labeling children with a mental health diagnosis, but like any health related problem, diagnoses are useful to help both identify and understand the nature and degree of your child’s problem. Diagnoses by themselves never fully describe your child and have limits.
To learn more about common disorders affecting children and adolescents, you can visit the website of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Often times, children are diagnosed with more than one mental health disorder. Mental health professionals use a system to diagnose their mental health problems called the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM system uses a (multi-axial) system of diagnosing mental health disorders on five levels (axes) describing different aspects of your child’s problem or disability.
- Axis I: clinical disorders, including major mental disorders and learning disorders
- Axis II: underlying pervasive or personality conditions, as well as mental retardation, and developmental disorders
- Axis III: acute medical conditions and physical disorders
- Axis IV: psychosocial and environmental factors contributing to the disorder
- Axis V:Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) or Children’s Global Assessment Scale for children and teens under the age of 18
When children suffer from more than one problem, they may have more than one diagnosis on the DSM system. For example, children may suffer from ADHD, anxiety and school avoidant behavior. In many cases, it is more likely for a child to have more than one diagnosis. The number and type of diagnosis your child may have, influences the type of treatment and services that can help your child. Diagnostic systems that are used are not perfect and more than one diagnosis is often necessary to fully capture your child’s issues.
Parents are often worried that their child may get the wrong diagnosis or that their real problems may be missed. To make sure that the mental health professional working with your child has the best understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, it is important that parents and professionals and the child actively work together to develop a shared understanding of the child’s difficulties and concerns.
As with any diagnostic process, things can be missed or not understood and although many mental health professionals do their best to get to know your child, misdiagnosis can occur. If you have worries or concerns about your child’s diagnoses, it is always helpful first to share your concerns with your mental health professional, or if necessary, to get a second or third opinion. As the parent or caregiver, you often spend the most time with your child and have the best sense of their strengths, issues and concerns. It is important to find a pediatrician and/or mental health professional that you can speak only with and trust.