I guess you are beginning to arrive as a blogger when you start getting hate mail, right? At least that’s what I tell myself whenever I get a nasty email. Hey- I’m being noticed! Today I got an angry email blasting me for being a psychologist and describing how we damage children by diagnosing them. He didn’t really need to swear at me. I meant it’s not like I created the system! But, beneath the foul language, his argument is one that I hear quite frequently from others. It’s just usually a little nicer.
I know many people get really upset about diagnosing children with mental illnesses. The biggest questions are usually “Why do we have to diagnosis children?” and “Aren’t we just labeling normal behavior?” I completely understand these arguments and they are actually very valid questions.
To be honest, we are a bit diagnosis happy in the professional world. Keep in mind, though, that we are dealing with children. And no matter what the problem is, early intervention and treatment is always one of the keys to successful outcomes. The primary reason we have to diagnose disorders is because we have to identify the problem. Have you ever tried to apply a solution to a problem you didn’t have?
You’re probably re-reading that sentence because it doesn’t make much sense. How can you solve a problem if you don’t know you have a problem? And don’t you have to know what the problem is in order to pick the best solution? The answer is yes. You can’t implement a solution until you have identified the problem. This is the reason we diagnose. You have to know what you are treating in order to know how to treat it.
Just think if you didn’t diagnose medical disorders. You’d go into the doctor’s office with a specific medical problem and they’d just start throwing different treatments at you, hoping to get lucky. You break your arm and they give you a blood transfusion. You have diabetes and they give you radiation. You have skin cancer and they modify your diet. It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? The same principle applies to mental illnesses.
I’m not saying that we don’t over diagnosis. We do. Or that we haven’t found a way to label normal behavior as abnormal. We do that too. I’m a professional that will easily admit there are tons of problems with the system. The system fails on a regular basis. But the goal of the system comes from a good place. The goal of the system has good intentions.
Yes, we throw a wide net when it comes to diagnosing children. However, ask yourself if you would rather have a wide net that catches everything and accidently misdiagnoses a few or a very narrow net that diagnoses correctly each time, but misses a huge number of kids who have the diagnosis? To me, it’s a pretty easy answer.
And remember, most of the time when it comes to diagnosing children it is so that they can receive services for help. We are actually trying to find a way to get them help they need to make their lives easier and happier. Receiving a diagnosis as a child isn’t like getting a felony when you are an adult. You don’t end up with a rap sheet attached to your social security number. You end up with access to treatment and help that you might not receive otherwise.