The Diagnostic Trap

First published 29th March 2013

This past week in the media, I think following a press release from NICE, ( the National Institute of Clinical Excellence), the term conduct disorder has found its way into the public space. This is not a new designation, but is a term from the world of psychology to describe serious and repetitive, excessively bad behaviour in children and teenagers.

It is a recognised condition and though there will be much huffing and puffing from certain sections of society who will want to write off the term as psycho-babble for 'what we used to call naughty children', I think, for some children, it is right to designate such serious and repetitive bad behaviour as a form of mental illness.

That said, there is always the danger of 'creep' with such a diagnostic designation. The danger is that increasingly all bad behaviour from children and teenagers will become designated as conduct disorder.

This then becomes the basis for two unhelpful developments.

Firstly, it will lead to some children who might not necessarily need it, being medicalised and then prescribed for. Let me stress again, for repetitive and seriously bad behaviour such a diagnosis and treatment may be spot on. However, to resort too quickly to such a diagnosis for sporadic bad behaviour, and in a busy school or a hard pressed family you could see the incentive to go down this route, would, in my view, be dangerous.

Second, such a diagnosis can just become an excuse for some parents to hand off responsibility for the behaviour of their children.

Rather than over medicalise children who don't need to be treated in such a way, if, as our Government rightly proclaims, "families are important," they really do need some more policies to get behind and support families in the precious task and responsibility of bringing up children. The CANparent initiative is an admirable start, but on its own will not be enough.

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