Misdiagnosis of Trauma in Children and Youth: Implications for Mental Health Professionals

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Rodriguez, Dana
PTSD; ADHD; Misdiagnosis; Children Mental Health; Mental Health; Social Work
project description
Licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs) have an important role in ethically assessing, diagnosing, and applying a treatment plan for children and youth who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, studies indicate symptoms of trauma among children and youth who have been exposed to or were the direct victim of violence may go undetected and, thus, result in the misdiagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Misdiagnosis of mental disorders could be detrimental to the very clients LMHPs seek to help. The expertise of LMHPs is essential in differentiating PTSD symptoms from that of ADHD. It is unclear why children and youth with PTSD continue to be misdiagnosed. This research aimed to explore factors associated with the inability of LMHPs to accurately diagnose children and youth who suffer from PTSD. In this qualitative study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven LMHPs in southern California. Results from thematic analysis of the data revealed—among other themes—that (1) confusion about PTSD and ADHD symptoms, (2) lack of experience, and (3) lack of familiarity with clients are the primary reasons for misdiagnosis of trauma in children and youth. Understanding how children and youth manifest their mental health disorders, and seeking continuous assessment can eventually help LMHPs make the right call. Implications for the field of mental health were discussed.Keywords: children and youth, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, licensed mental health professional