Diagnosis in child mental health: Exploring the benefits, risks and alternatives

Symposium: The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health: Improving the lives of infants, children and families
Wednesday 25 July, 1416 – 1432


Rhys Price-Robertson
Australian Institute of Family Studies

One of the goals of the Emerging Minds National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is to assist professionals to assess children at risk of mental health conditions. However, the identification and diagnosis of child mental health conditions is a topic that courts controversy, from sensationalist headlines about the over-diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, to bruising academic debate over psychosocial screening programs such as the Healthy Kids Check. Such controversies tend to be polarised, dominated by the voices of those who espouse certainty.

This presentation, by contrast, aims to explore the complexities of diagnosis in child mental health. The benefits and criticisms of diagnostic frameworks, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), will be outlined, as will children’s and carers’ views and experiences of psychiatric diagnoses. Evidence of over-diagnosis of child mental health conditions in Australia will be examined, and some of the forces that drive over-diagnosis explained. This presentation will conclude by outlining theories, models and practices that offer alternatives to the established systems for identifying mental health conditions.

It is hoped that this presentation encourages researchers, policy makers and service providers to examine their own understanding of diagnostic frameworks, and to ask critical questions about the role that these frameworks play in their work with children and families.