Ethical issues in the diagnosis of mental illness in children

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Southern New Hampshire University
In its current state, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fifth Edition (DSM-5) (2013) provides relatively little distinction in how to go about the diagnosis of mental disorders in children. The majority of disorders outlined in the DSM-5 concern the diagnosis of older and much more developed individuals (adults and late-teens). A child’s mind works differently than theirs in many ways due to the fact that a child’s mind is still developing and changing; some criteria for a specific diagnosis can actually be present in a completely healthy and developing child. There are however, a small collection mental disorders that are focused primarily on children which have their own set of criteria that is better defined in relation to standard childhood behavior. This is where the ethical issue comes in: If we currently have exceptions for a few specific disorders when diagnosing children, are we not ethically bound to do so across the board? Current practice sees therapists adjusting requirements and compensating for the child’s development with how they see fit; there is no uniform process or research outlined in modern diagnostic literature. This is one of the main causes for the over-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of many disorders in children. If it is understood that early detection and treatment can help a child later in life and that the gap in direction impedes this process which can possibly bring harm to these children, doesn’t it work contrary to the general goal of therapy? It does, and because of this, it is absolutely critical that solutions to this problem are researched and developed. Whether these solutions consist of amendments to the current state of the DSM-5 or an entirely separate manual for child diagnoses, we should be ethically bound to resolving this critical issue. (Author abstract)