What is the Epidemiology of Child Psychiatric Disorders?

Introduction

The epidemiology of child psychiatric disorders is the study of the incidence, prevalence, and distribution of conditions in child and adolescent psychiatry.

Subfields of paediatric psychiatric epidemiology include developmental epidemiology, which focuses on the genetic and environmental causes of child psychiatric disorders. The field of paediatric psychiatric epidemiology finds widely varying rates of childhood psychiatric disorders, depending on study population, diagnostic method, and cultural setting.

Prevalence of Mental Illness

Epidemiological research has shown that between 3% and 18% of children have a psychiatric disorder causing significant functional impairment (reasons for these widely divergent prevalence rates are discussed below) and Costello and colleagues have proposed a median prevalence estimate of 12%. Using a different statistical method, Waddell and colleagues propose a prevalence rate for all mental disorders in children of 14.2%.

Developmental Epidemiology

Developmental epidemiology seeks to “disentangle how the trajectories of symptoms, environment, and individual development intertwine to produce psychopathology”.

Socio-Economic Influences

Mental illness in childhood and adolescence is associated with parental unemployment, low family income, being on family income assistance, lower parental educational level, and single-parent, blended or stepparent families.

Methodological Issues

Epidemiological research has produced widely divergent estimates, depending on the nature of the diagnostic method (e.g. structured clinical interview, unstructured clinical interview, self-report or parent-report questionnaire), but more recent studies using DSM-IV-based structured interviews produce more reliable estimates of clinical “caseness”. Past research has also been limited by inconsistent definitions of clinical disorders, and differing upper and lower age limits of the study population. Changing definitions over time have given rise to spurious evidence of changing prevalence of disorders. Furthermore, almost all epidemiological surveys have been carried out in Europe, North America and Australia, and the cross-cultural validity of DSM criteria have been questioned, so it is not clear to what extent the published data can be generalised to developing countries.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_child_psychiatric_disorders >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Introduction

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) encompass various forms of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction experienced in childhood.

ACEs have been linked to premature death as well as to various health conditions, including those of mental disorders. Toxic stress linked to childhood maltreatment is related to a number of neurological changes in the structure of the brain and its function. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, published in 1998, was the first large scale study to look at the relationship between ten categories of adversity in childhood and health outcomes in adulthood. Subsequent research is beginning to identify specific biomarkers associated with different kinds of ACEs.

Long Term Effects

According to the Centre for Youth Wellness website:

“Exposure without a positive buffer, such as a nurturing parent or caregiver, can lead to a Toxic Stress Response in children, which can, in turn, lead to health problems like asthma, poor growth and frequent infections, as well as learning difficulties and behavioral issues. In the long term, exposure to ACEs can also lead to serious health conditions like heart disease, stroke, and cancer later in life.”

Adverse childhood experiences can alter the structural development of neural networks and the biochemistry of neuroendocrine systems (i.e. how the brain regulates the hormonal activity in the body) and may have long-term effects on the body, including speeding up the processes of disease and aging and compromising immune systems.

Adverse childhood experiences are equal to various stresses, and a serious adversity is defined as a trauma. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that prolonged stress in childhood can have life-long implications for the development of many diseases. Moreover, ACEs can disrupt early brain development leading to the possible development of several disorders. WHO has designed a screening questionnaire to be used internationally in order to list adverse effects, and relate them to future developments.

The effects of ACEs goes beyond health and risk taking behaviours with studies reporting that people with high ACEs scores showed less trust in government COVID-19 information and polices.

Health Outcomes in Adulthood

Physical Health

ACEs have been linked to numerous negative health and lifestyle issues into adulthood across multiple countries and regions including the United States, the European Union, South Africa, and Asia. Across all these groups researchers have reported seeing the adoption of higher rates of unhealthy lifestyle behaviour including sexual risk taking, smoking, heavy drinking, and obesity. The associations between these lifestyle issues and ACEs shows a dose response relationship with people having four or more ACEs have significantly more of these lifestyle problems. Physical health problems arise in people with ACEs with a similar dose response relationship. Chronic illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and migraines show increased symptom severity in step was exposure to ACEs.

Mental Health

Mental health issues have been well know in the face of childhood trauma. Exposure to ACEs is no different with multiple mental health conditions found to have a dose response relationship with symptom severity and prevalence – including depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, suicidality, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Special Populations

Additionally, epigenetic transmission may occur due to stress during pregnancy or during interactions between mother and newborns. Maternal stress, depression, and exposure to partner violence have all been shown to have epigenetic effects on infants.

Implementing Practices

Globally knowledge about the prevalence and consequences of adverse childhood experiences has shifted policy makers and mental health practitioners towards increasing, trauma-informed and resilience-building practices. This work has been over 20 years in the making bringing together research are implemented in communities, education settings, public health departments, social services, faith-based organisations and criminal justice.

Communities

As knowledge about the prevalence and consequences of ACEs increases, more communities seek to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices into their agencies and systems. Indigenous populations show similar patterns of mental and physical health challenges as other minority groups. Interventions have been developed in American Indian tribal communities and have demonstrated that social support and cultural involvement can ameliorate the negative physical health effects of ACEs.

There is a paucity of empirical research documenting the experiences of communities who have attempted to implement information about ACEs and trauma-informed practice into widespread public action. The Matlin et al. (2019) article on Pottstown, Pennsylvania’s process demonstrated the challenges associated with community implementation. The Pottstown Trauma-Informed Community Connection (PTICC) initiative evolved from a series of prior collectives that all had similar goals of creating community resilience in order to prevent and treat ACEs. Over the course of the two-year study, over 230 individuals from nearly 100 organisations attended one training offered by the PTICC, raising the number of engaged public sectors from 2 to 14. Participation in training and events was fairly steady and this was largely due to community networking.

However, the PTICC faced several challenges similar to those predicted by the Building Community Resilience model. These barriers included availability of resources over time, competition for power within the group, and the lack of systemic change needed to support long-term goals. Still, Pottstown has built a trauma-informed community foundation and offers lessons to other communities who have similar goals: start with a dedicated small team, identify community connectors, secure long-term financial backing, and conduct data-informed evaluations throughout.

Other community examples exist, such as Tarpon Springs, Florida which became the first trauma-informed community in 2011. Trauma-informed initiatives in Tarpon Springs include trauma-awareness training for the local housing authority, changes in programs for ex-offenders, and new approaches to educating students with learning difficulties.

Education

ACEs exposure is widespread globally, one study from the National Survey of Children’s Health in the United States reported that approximately 68% of children 0-17 years old had experienced one or more ACEs. The impact of ACEs on children can manifest in difficulties focusing, self regulating, trusting others, and can lead to negative cognitive effects. One study found that a child with 4 or more ACEs was 32 times more likely to be labelled with a behavioural or cognitive problem than a child with no ACEs. Another study by the Area Health Education Centre of Washington State University found that students with at least three ACEs are three times as likely to experience academic failure, six times as likely to have behavioural problems, and five times as likely to have attendance problems. The trauma-informed school movement aims to train teachers and staff to help children self-regulate, and to help families that are having problems that result in children’s normal response to trauma. It also seeks to provide behavioural consequences that will not re-traumatize a child.

Trauma-informed education refers to the specific use of knowledge about trauma and its expression to modify support for children to improve their developmental success. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) describes a trauma-informed school system as a place where school community members work to provide trauma awareness, knowledge and skills to respond to potentially negative outcomes following traumatic stress. The NCTSN published a study that discussed the ARC (attachment, regulation and competency) model, which other researchers have based their subsequent studies of trauma-informed education practices on. Trauma-sensitive or trauma-informed schooling has become increasingly popular in Washington, Massachusetts, and California in the last 10 years.

Social Services

Social service providers – including welfare systems, housing authorities, homeless shelters, and domestic violence centres – are adopting trauma-informed approaches that help to prevent ACEs or minimize their impact. Utilising tools that screen for trauma can help a social service worker direct their clients to interventions that meet their specific needs. Trauma-informed practices can also help social service providers look at how trauma impacts the whole family.

Trauma-informed approaches can improve child welfare services by:

  • Openly discussing trauma; and
  • Addressing parental trauma.

The New Hampshire Division for Children Youth and Families (DCYF) is taking a trauma-informed approach to their foster care services by educating staff about childhood trauma, screening children entering foster care for trauma, using trauma-informed language to mitigate further traumatisation, mentoring birth parents and involving them in collaborative parenting, and training foster parents to be trauma-informed.

Housing authorities are also becoming trauma-informed. Supportive housing can sometimes recreate control and power dynamics associated with clients’ early trauma. This can be reduced through trauma-informed practices, such as training staff to be respectful of clients’ space by scheduling appointments and not letting themselves into clients’ private spaces, and also understanding that an aggressive response may be trauma-related coping strategies. Up to 50% of people with housing insecurity experienced at least four ACEs.

Health Care Services

Screening for or talking about ACEs with parents and children can help to foster healthy physical and psychological development and can help doctors understand the circumstances that children and their parents are facing. By screening for ACEs in children, paediatric doctors and nurses can better understand behavioural problems. Some doctors have questioned whether some behaviours resulting in ADHD diagnoses are in fact reactions to trauma. Children who have experienced four or more ACEs are three times as likely to take ADHD medication when compared with children with less than four ACEs. Screening parents for their ACEs allows doctors to provide the appropriate support to parents who have experienced trauma, helping them to build resilience, foster attachment with their children, and prevent a family cycle of ACEs.

Public Health

Objections to screening for ACEs include the lack of randomised controlled trials that show that such measures can be used to actually improve health outcomes, the scale collapses items and has limited item coverage, there are no standard protocols for how to use the information gathered, and that revisiting negative childhood experiences could be emotionally traumatic. Other obstacles to adoption include that the technique is not taught in medical schools, is not billable, and the nature of the conversation makes some doctors personally uncomfortable. Some public health centres see ACEs as an important way (especially for mothers and children) to target health interventions for individuals during sensitive periods of development early in their life, or even in utero.

Resilience and Resources

Resilience is the ability to adapt or cope in the face of significant adversity and threats such as health problems, stressors experienced in the workplace or home. Resiliency can moderate the relationship of the effects of ACEs and health problem in adulthood. Being able use emotion regulation resources such as cognitive reappraisal and mindfulness people are able to protect themselves from the potential negative effects of stressors, these skills can be taught to people but people living with ACEs score lower on measures of resilience and emotion regulation.

Resilience and access to other resources are protective factors against the effects of exposure to ACEs. Increasing resilience in children can help provide a buffer for those who have been exposed to trauma and have a higher ACE score. People and children who have fostered resiliency have the skills and abilities to embrace behaviours that can foster growth. In childhood, resiliency and attachment security can be fostered from having a caring adult in a child’s life.

Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a research study conducted by the US health maintenance organisation Kaiser Permanente and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that was originally published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Participants were recruited to the study between 1995 and 1997 and have since been in long-term follow up for health outcomes. The study has demonstrated an association of ACEs with health and social problems across the lifespan. The study has produced many scientific articles and conference and workshop presentations that examine ACEs.

In the 1980s, the dropout rate of participants at Kaiser Permanente’s obesity clinic in San Diego, California, was about 50%; despite all of the dropouts successfully losing weight under the program. Vincent Felitti, head of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, conducted interviews with people who had left the programme, and discovered that a majority of 286 people he interviewed had experienced childhood sexual abuse. The interview findings suggested to Felitti that weight gain might be a coping mechanism for depression, anxiety, and fear.

Felitti and Robert Anda from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went on to survey childhood trauma experiences of over 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patient volunteers. The 17,337 participants were volunteers from approximately 26,000 consecutive Kaiser Permanente members. About half were female; 74.8% were white; the average age was 57; 75.2% had attended college; all had jobs and good health care, because they were members of the Kaiser health maintenance organisation. Participants were asked about different types of adverse childhood experiences that had been identified in earlier research literature:

  • Physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Physical neglect.
  • Emotional neglect.
  • Exposure to domestic violence.
  • Household substance abuse.
  • Household mental illness.
  • Parental separation or divorce.
  • Incarcerated household member.

Findings

According to the United States’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the ACE study found that:

  • Adverse childhood experiences are common.
    • For example, 28% of study participants reported physical abuse and 21% reported sexual abuse.
    • Many also reported experiencing a divorce or parental separation, or having a parent with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
  • Adverse childhood experiences often occur together.
    • Almost 40% of the original sample reported two or more ACEs and 12.5% experienced four or more.
    • Because ACEs occur in clusters, many subsequent studies have examined the cumulative effects of ACEs rather than the individual effects of each.
  • Adverse childhood experiences have a dose-response relationship with many health problems.
    • As researchers followed participants over time, they discovered that a person’s cumulative ACEs score has a strong, graded relationship to numerous health, social, and behavioural problems throughout their lifespan, including substance use disorders.
    • Furthermore, many problems related to ACEs tend to be comorbid, or co-occurring.
ACE Pyramid
The ACE Pyramid represents the conceptual framework for the ACE Study, which has uncovered how adverse childhood experiences are strongly related to various risk factors for disease throughout the lifespan, according to the CDC.

About two-thirds of individuals reported at least one adverse childhood experience; 87% of individuals who reported one ACE reported at least one additional ACE. The number of ACEs was strongly associated with adulthood high-risk health behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and severe obesity, and correlated with ill-health including depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and shortened lifespan. Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a seven-fold (700%) increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a four-fold increase in emphysema; an ACE score above six was associated with a 30-fold (3000%) increase in attempted suicide.

The ACE study’s results suggest that maltreatment and household dysfunction in childhood contribute to health problems decades later. These include chronic diseases – such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes – that are the most common causes of death and disability in the United States. These findings are important because they provided a link between the effects of child maltreatment and negative effects later in life which had not been established as clearly before this study.

Subsequent Surveys

The ACE Study has produced more than 50 articles that look at the prevalence and consequences of ACEs. It has been influential in several areas. Subsequent studies have confirmed the high frequency of adverse childhood experiences.

The original study questions have been used to develop a 10-item screening questionnaire. Numerous subsequent surveys have confirmed that adverse childhood experiences are frequent.

The Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) which is ran by the CDC, is an annual survey conducted in waves by groups of individual state and territory health departments.. An expanded ACE survey instrument was included in several US states found each state. Adverse childhood experiences were even more frequent in studies in urban Philadelphia and in a survey of young mothers (mostly younger than 19). Surveys of adverse childhood experiences have been conducted in multiple EU member countries.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_childhood_experiences >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is the Adverse Childhood Experiences International Questionnaire?

Introduction

Adverse Childhood Experiences International Questionnaire (ACE-IQ) is a World Health Organisation (WHO), 43-item screening questionnaire.

Purpose

It is intended to measure:

  • Types of child abuse or trauma;
  • Neglect;
  • Household dysfunction;
  • Peer violence;
  • Sexual and emotional abuse; and
  • Exposure to community and collective violence.

Who is it For?

ACE-IQ is meant to be administered to people 18 years or older in all countries, and is currently undergoing validation testing.

What is Parentification?

Introduction

Parentification is the process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as parent to their own parent or sibling. In extreme cases, the child is used to fill the void of the alienating parent’s emotional life.

Two distinct types of parentification have been identified technically: instrumental parentification and emotional parentification.

  • Instrumental parentification involves the child completing physical tasks for the family, such as looking after a sick relative, paying bills, interpreting foreign language, or providing assistance to younger siblings that would normally be provided by a parent.
  • Emotional parentification occurs when a child or adolescent must take on the role of a confidante or mediator for (or between) parents or family members.

Background

Melitta Schmideberg noted in 1948 how emotional deprivation could lead parents to treat their children (unconsciously) as substitute parent figures. “Spousification” and “parental child” (Minuchin) offered alternative concepts exploring the same phenomenon; while the theme of intergenerational continuity in such violations of personal boundaries was further examined. Eric Berne touched on the dangers of parents and children having a symmetrical, rather than asymmetrical relationship, as when an absent spouse is replaced by the eldest child; and Virginia Satir wrote of “the role-function discrepancy…where the son gets into a head-of-the-family role, commonly that of the father”.

Object relations theory highlighted how the child’s false self is called into being when it is forced prematurely to take excessive care of the parental object; and John Bowlby looked at what he called “compulsive caregiving” among the anxiously attached, as a result of a parent inverting the normal relationship and pressuring the child to be an attachment figure for them.

All such aspects of disturbed and inverted parenting patterns have been drawn under the umbrella of the wider phenomenon of parentification – with the result (critics suggest) that on occasion “ironically the concept of parentification has…been as over-burdened as the child it often describes”

Choice of Child

For practical reasons, elder children are generally chosen for the familial “parental” role – very often the first-born children who were put in the anomalous role. However, gender considerations mean that sometimes the eldest boy or eldest girl was selected, even if they are not the oldest child overall, for such reasons as the preference to match the sex of the missing parent.

Thus where there is a disabled child in the family to be cared for, “older siblings, especially girls, are at the greatest risk of parentification”; where a father-figure is missing, it may be the eldest son who is forced to take on his father’s responsibilities, without ever obtaining the autonomy that normally accompanies such adult roles.

Alternatively a widower may put a daughter into the social and emotional role of his deceased wife – “spousification”; or a mother can oblige her daughter to play the caring role, in a betrayal of the child’s normal expectation of love and care

Narcissistic

Narcissistic parentification occurs when a child is forced to take on the parent’s idealised projection, something which encourages a compulsive perfectionism in the child at the expense of their natural development. In a kind of pseudo-identification, the child is induced by any and all means to take on the characteristics of the parental ego ideal – a pattern that has been detected in western culture since Homer’s description of the character of Achilles.

Disadvantages

The almost inevitable byproduct of parentification is losing one’s own childhood. In destructive parentification, the child in question takes on excessive responsibility in the family, without their caretaking being acknowledged and supported by others: by adopting the role of parental care-giver, the child loses their real place in the family unit and is left lonely and unsure. In extreme instances, there may be what has been called a kind of disembodiment, a narcissistic wound that threatens one’s basic self-identity.

In later life, parentified children often experience anxiety over abandonment and loss, and demonstrate difficulty handling rejection and disappointment within interpersonal relationships.

Case Studies

  • Carl Jung in his late autobiography reports that his mother always spoke to him as an adult, confiding in him what she could not share with her husband. Laurens van der Post commented on the grown-up atmosphere surrounding the young Jung, and considered that “this activation of the pattern of the “old man” within himself…was all a consequence of the extent to which his father and mother failed each other”.
  • Patrick Casement reports on a patient – Mr T – whose mother was distressed at any and all his feelings, and who therefore protected her from them – mothering her himself.

Literary Examples

The Tale of Genji tells that for “Kaoru’s mother…her son’s visits were her chief pleasure. Sometimes he almost seemed more like a father than a son – a fact which he was aware of and thought rather sad”.

Charles Dickens’ “Angel in the house” characters, particularly Agnes Wickfield in David Copperfield, are parentified children. Agnes is forced to be the parent of her alcoholic father and seems to strive for perfection as a means of reaching the “ego ideal” of her deceased mother (who died upon child-birth). Agnes marries late, has relationship and intimacy problems (she has a hard time expressing her love for David until he reveals his own love for her), and has some self-defeating attitudes; in one scene she blames her own father’s misfortunes on herself. However, she proves to be resilient, resourceful, responsible and even potentially career-driven (she forms her own school). She also manages to marry the protagonist David and the two live happily together for 10 years with children by the end of the novel.

The theme of parentification has also been explored in the Twilight series, with particular but not exclusive reference to the character of Bella Swan.

What is the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991?

Introduction

The Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991 (c.50) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom applicable only in Scotland which replaced the pre-existing rule of pupillage and minority with a simpler rule that a person has full legal capacity at the age of 16.

Refer to Gillick Competence.

Background

Under the previous Scots law (derived from Roman law), a child to the age of 12 if female, or 14 if male, had legal status of “pupil” and was under legal control of an adult (usually parent or parents) deemed “tutor”. From that age until the age of majority the child had legal status of a “minor”, and might have a responsible adult deemed “curator” or have no responsible adult (being referred to as “fors familiated”). The Scottish age of majority was originally 21 until reduced to 18 by the Age of Majority (Scotland) Act 1969. Pupils lacked any capacity to enter into legal contracts. Minors had capacity to enter into contracts, which included the capacity to make a will, but subject to rights to have these reduced by a court in certain circumstances, and sometimes requiring their curators consent. The rules as to when contracts did or did not require consent, and which were potentially reducible by court were complex. The age to enter into marriage was originally the age of minority, but this was raised to 16 years by the Age of Marriage Act 1929, and confirmed in the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.

Under the Age Legal Capacity Scotland Act 1991 the old rules and terms were replaced. The basic rule under the replacement regime is that under 16s have no legal capacity. This is qualified by section 2 which provides that under 16s can:

  1. Enter into a contract of a kind commonly entered into by persons of their age group, and on terms which are not unreasonable; and
  2. From age 12, make a Will, and are deemed to have capacity to instruct a lawyer to act on their behalf.
  3. The right to consent to an adoption was also subsequently inserted into this section by the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

In all other cases the legal Guardian of the under 16 has legal right to deal with all contractual and consent matters on the child’s behalf.

From age 16 a person has full legal capacity to enter into any form of agreement. This subject to protection for younger persons by means of a right (under section 3) while under the age of 21, to have a contract made between the ages of 16 and 18 set aside as a “prejudicial transaction”. The test is whether a reasonably prudent adult would not have entered into such a contract, and the person has been prejudiced by entering into that contract. Under section 4 a contract may be approved in advance by a court, in which case it cannot later be reduced. Contracts entered into in the course of the young person’s business, or where they misrepresented their age also cannot be reduced.

There is also specific provision for persons having their birthday on 29 February; under section 6 they are treated as having their birthday on 01 March in every non-leap year for purposes of calculating their age.

What is Gillick Competence?

Introduction

Gillick competence is a term originating in England and Wales and is used in medical law to decide whether a child (under 16 years of age) is able to consent to their own medical treatment, without the need for parental permission or knowledge.

The standard is based on the 1985 judicial decision of the House of Lords with respect to a case of the contraception advice given by an NHS doctor in Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority. The case is binding in England and Wales, and has been adopted to varying extents in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Similar provision is made in Scotland by the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991. In Northern Ireland, although separate legislation applies, the then Department of Health and Social Services stated that there was no reason to suppose that the House of Lords’ decision would not be followed by the Northern Ireland courts.

The Gillick Decision

Gillick’s case involved a health departmental circular advising doctors on the contraception of minors (for this purpose, under 16s). The circular stated that the prescription of contraception was a matter for the doctor’s discretion and that they could be prescribed to under-16s without parental consent. This matter was litigated because an activist, Victoria Gillick, ran an active campaign against the policy. Gillick sought a declaration that prescribing contraception was illegal because the doctor would commit an offence of encouraging sex with a minor and that it would be treatment without consent as consent vested in the parent; she was unsuccessful before the High Court of Justice, but succeeded in the Court of Appeal.

The issue before the House of Lords was only whether the minor involved could give consent. “Consent” here was considered in the broad sense of consent to battery or assault: in the absence of patient consent to treatment, a doctor, even if well-intentioned, might be sued/charged.

The House of Lords focused on the issue of consent rather than a notion of ‘parental rights’ or parental power. In fact, the court held that ‘parental rights’ did not exist, other than to safeguard the best interests of a minor. The majority held that in some circumstances a minor could consent to treatment, and that in these circumstances a parent had no power to veto treatment.

Lord Scarman and Lord Fraser proposed slightly different tests (Lord Bridge agreed with both). Lord Scarman’s test is generally considered to be the test of ‘Gillick competency’. He required that a child could consent if he or she fully understood the medical treatment that is proposed:

As a matter of law the parental right to determine whether or not their minor child below the age of sixteen will have medical treatment terminates if and when the child achieves sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed. Lord Scarman.

The ruling holds particularly significant implications for the legal rights of minor children in England in that it is broader in scope than merely medical consent. It lays down that the authority of parents to make decisions for their minor children is not absolute, but diminishes with the child’s evolving maturity. The result of Gillick is that in England today, except in situations that are regulated otherwise by law, the legal right to make a decision on any particular matter concerning the child shifts from the parent to the child when the child reaches sufficient maturity to be capable of making up his or her own mind on the matter requiring decision.

Subsequent Developments

A child who is deemed “Gillick competent” is able to prevent their parents viewing their medical records. As such, medical staff will not make a disclosure of medical records of a child who is deemed “Gillick competent” unless consent is manifest.

In most jurisdictions the parent of an emancipated minor does not have the ability to consent to therapy, regardless of the Gillick test. Typical positions of emancipation arise when the minor is married (R v D [1984] AC 778, 791) or in the military.

The nature of the standard remains uncertain. The courts have so far declined invitations to define rigidly “Gillick competence” and the individual doctor is free to make a decision, consulting peers if this may be helpful, as to whether that child is “Gillick competent”.

As of May 2016, it appeared to Funston and Howard that some recent legislation worked explicitly to restrict the ability of Gillick competent children to consent to medical treatment outside of clinical settings. For example, parental consent is required for the treatment of children with asthma using standby salbutamol inhalers in schools. These restrictions have yet to be tested in court.

R and W

The decisions In re R (1991) and Re W (1992) (especially Lord Donaldson) contradict the Gillick decision somewhat. From these, and subsequent cases, it is suggested that although the parental right to veto treatment ends, parental powers do not “terminate” as suggested by Lord Scarman in Gillick. However, these are only obiter statements and were made by a lower court; therefore, they are not legally binding. However, the parens patriae jurisdiction of the court remains available allowing a court order to force treatment against a child’s (and parent’s) wishes.

Axon

In a 2006 judicial review, R (on the application of Axon) v Secretary of State for Health, the High Court affirmed Gillick in allowing for medical confidentiality for teenagers seeking an abortion. The court rejected a claim that not granting parents a “right to know” whether their child had sought an abortion, birth control or contraception breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Axon case set out a list of criteria that a doctor must meet when deciding whether to provide treatment to an under-16 child without informing their parents: they must be convinced that they can understand all aspects of the advice, that the patient’s physical or mental health is likely to suffer without medical advice, that it is in the best interests of the patient to provide medical advice, that (in provision of contraception) they are likely to have sex whether contraception is provided or not, and that they have made an effort to convince the young person to disclose the information to their parents.

2020s

In late 2020, Bell v Tavistock considered whether under-16s with gender dysphoria could be Gillick competent to consent to receiving puberty blockers. Due to the unique specifics of that treatment, the High Court concluded that in such cases the answer will almost always be ‘no’, a priori. In late 2021, the Court of Appeal overturned Bell v Tavistock, as the clinic’s policies and practices had not been found to be unlawful.

In early September 2021, guidance circulated to NHS trusts stated that most 12- to 15-year-olds should be deemed “Gillick competent to provide [their] own consent” to be vaccinated against COVID-19, despite the JCVI “fail[ing] to recommend Covid-19 vaccines for healthy 12- to 15-year-olds”. Campaigner Molly Kingsley, who had co-founded the campaign group UsForThem over the issue, warned that “Were vaccination of children to happen on school premises without fully respecting the need for parental consent it would really prejudice parents’ trust in schools.” Epidemiologist and SAGE member John Edmunds said that “if we allow infection just to run through the population, that’s a lot of children who will be infected and that will be a lot of disruption to schools in the coming months.

Australian Law

The Australian High Court gave specific and strong approval for the Gillick decision in “Marion’s Case”, Secretary of the Department of Health and Community Services v JWB and SMB (1992) 175 CLR 189. The Gillick competence doctrine is part of Australian case law (see, e.g., DoCS v Y [1999] NSWSC 644).

There is no express authority in Australia on In re R and Re W, so whether a parent’s right terminates is unclear. This lack of authority reflects that the reported cases have all involved minors who have been found to be incompetent, and that Australian courts will make decisions in the parens patriae jurisdiction regardless of Gillick competence.

In South Australia and New South Wales legislation clarifies the common law, establishing a Gillick-esque standard of competence but preserving concurrent consent between parent and child for the ages 14-16.

Confusion regarding Gillick Competence

On 21 May 2009, confusion arose between Gillick competence, which identifies under-16s with the capacity to consent to their own treatment, and the Fraser guidelines, which are concerned only with contraception and focus on the desirability of parental involvement and the risks of unprotected sex in that area.

A persistent rumour arose that Victoria Gillick disliked having her name associated with the assessment of children’s capacity, but an editorial in the BMJ from 2006 claimed that Gillick said that she “has never suggested to anyone, publicly or privately, that [she] disliked being associated with the term ‘Gillick competent'”.

Fraser Guidelines

It is lawful for doctors to provide contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent providing certain criteria are met. These criteria, known as the Fraser guidelines, were laid down by Lord Fraser in the Gillick decision and require the professional to be satisfied that:

  • The young person will understand the professional’s advice;
  • The young person cannot be persuaded to inform their parents;
  • The young person is likely to begin, or to continue having, sexual intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment;
  • Unless the young person receives contraceptive treatment, their physical or mental health, or both, are likely to suffer; and
  • The young person’s best interests require them to receive contraceptive advice or treatment with or without parental consent.

Although these criteria specifically refer to contraception, the principles are deemed to apply to other treatments, including abortion. Although the judgment in the House of Lords referred specifically to doctors, it is considered by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to apply to other health professionals, “including general practitioners, gynaecologists, nurses, and practitioners in community contraceptive clinics, sexual health clinics and hospital services”. It may also be interpreted as covering youth workers and health promotion workers who may be giving contraceptive advice and condoms to young people under 16, but this has not been tested in court.

If a person under the age of 18 refuses to consent to treatment, it is possible in some cases for their parents or the courts to overrule their decision. However, this right can be exercised only on the basis that the welfare of the young person is paramount. In this context, welfare does not simply mean their physical health. The psychological effect of having the decision overruled would have to be taken into account and would normally be an option only when the young person was thought likely to suffer “grave and irreversible mental or physical harm”. Usually, when a parent wants to overrule a young person’s decision to refuse treatment, health professionals will apply to the courts for a final decision.

An interesting aside to the Fraser guidelines is that many[weasel words] regard Lord Scarman’s judgment as the leading judgement in the case, but because Lord Fraser’s judgement was shorter and set out in more specific terms – and in that sense more accessible to health and welfare professionals – it is his judgement that has been reproduced as containing the core principles, as for example cited in the RCOG circular.

What are Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)?

Introduction

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is the name for NHS-provided services in the United Kingdom for children, generally until school-leaving age, who are having difficulties with their emotional well-being or are deemed to have persistent behavioural problems.

CAMHS are organised locally, and the exact services provided may vary, often by local government area.

Brief History

In Europe and the United States child-centred mental health did not become a medical specialty until after World War I. In the United Kingdom children’s and young people’s mental health treatment was for decades the remit of the Child Guidance Movement increasingly working after World War II with local educational authorities and often influenced by psychoanalytic ideas. Provision in NHS hospitals was piecemeal across the country and disconnected from the youth justice system. However opposition to Psychoanalysis with its pioneering research work into childhood and adolescence, which was poorly understood by proponents of the Medical model, caused the service to be abandoned in favour of evidence-based medicine and evidence-based education. This led to the eclipse of the multidisciplinary child guidance approach in the 1990s and a public policy-motivated formal take-over by the NHS.

The development of CAMHS within a four-tiered framework started in 1995. In 1998, 24 CAMHS Innovation Projects started, and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 established related youth offending teams. In 2000 the NHS Plan Implementation Programme required health and local authorities to jointly produce a local CAMHS strategy.

In November 2008 the independent CAMHS Review was published.

From about 2013 onward major concerns have been expressed about reductions in CAMHS, and apparently increasing demand, and in 2014 the parliamentary Health Select Committee investigated and reported on provision. In 2015 the government published a review, and promised a funding increase of about £250 million per year. However the funds were not ring-fenced and as of 2016 only about half of England’s Clinical commissioning groups had increased local CAMHS funding. CAMHS funding remains a popular topic for political announcements of funding and the current aim is to increase funding to the level that 35% of young people with a disorder are able to receive a specialist service. Different models of service organisation are also advocated as part of this transformation.

In Scotland, between 2007 and 2016 the number of CAMHS psychologists had doubled, reflecting increased demand for the service. However in September 2020, 53.5% of CAMHS patients in Scotland had waited for an appointment longer than the 18 weeks target, and in Glasgow the average waiting time was 26 weeks.

131 new CAMHS beds were commissioned by NHS England in 2018, increasing the existing 1,440 bed base by more than 10%. 56 will be in London, 12 at Bodmin Hospital and 22 at St Mary’s Hospital in Leeds.

Service Framework

In the UK CAMHS are organised around a four tier system:

TierDescription
1General advice and treatment for less severe problems by non-mental health specialists working in general services, such as GPs, school nurses, social workers, and voluntary agencies.
2Usually CAMHS specialists working in community and primary care, such as mental health workers and counsellors working in clinics, schools and youth services.
3Usually a multi-disciplinary team or service working in a community mental health clinic providing a specialised service for more severe disorders, with team members including psychiatrists, social workers, board certified behaviour analysts, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and other therapists.
4Highly specialist services for children and young people with serious problems, such as day units, specialised outpatient teams and in-patient units.

Specialist CAMHS – Tiers 3 and 4

Generally patients cannot self-refer to Tier 3 or 4 services, which are sometimes called specialist CAMHS. Referrals can be made by a wide range of agencies and professionals, including GPs and school nurses.

The aim is to have a team led by a consultant psychiatrist, although other models exist and there is limited evidence of what system works best. It is suggested that there should be a consultant psychiatrist for a total population of 75,000, although in most of the UK this standard is not met.

The Tier 4 service includes hospital care, with about 1,450 hospital beds provided in England for adolescents aged 13 to 18. Typical conditions that sometime require hospital care include depression, psychoses, eating disorders and severe anxiety disorders.

The service may, depending on locality, include:

  • Art therapy.
  • Child psychiatry.
  • Clinical psychology.
  • Educational psychology.
  • Family therapy.
  • Music therapy.
  • Occupational therapy.
  • Psychiatric nursing.
  • Social worker interface.
  • Speech therapy.
  • Child psychotherapy.
  • Forensic CAMHS, working with young offenders or those at risk of offending.

Performance

As of December 2016, some young English people with eating disorders were being sent hundreds of miles away to Scotland because the services they required were not available locally. Not withstanding good care in Scotland it was said that being away from friends and family compromised their recovery. In response the government had adopted a policy of ending such arrangements by 2021, and had allocated a cumulative £150M to improve local availability of care. There are concerns that not enough is being done to support people at risk of taking their own lives. 1,039 children and adolescents in England were admitted to beds away from home in 2017-2018, many had to travel over 100 miles (160 kilometres) from home. Many had complex mental health issues frequently involving a risk of self-harm or suicide, like severe depression, eating disorders, psychosis and personality disorders.

In 2017-2018 at least 539 children assessed as needing Tier 3 child and adolescent mental health services care waited more than a year to start treatment, according to a Health Service Journal survey which elicited reports from 33 out of the 50 mental health trusts.

What is Conduct Disorder?

Introduction

Conduct disorder (CD) is a mental disorder diagnosed in childhood or adolescence that presents itself through a repetitive and persistent pattern of behaviour that includes theft, lies, physical violence that may lead to destruction and wanton breaking of rules, in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate norms are violated.

These behaviours are often referred to as “antisocial behaviours.” It is often seen as the precursor to antisocial personality disorder, which is per definition not diagnosed until the individual is 18 years old. Conduct disorder may result from parental rejection and neglect and can be treated with family therapy, as well as behavioural modifications and pharmacotherapy. Conduct disorder is estimated to affect 51.1 million people globally as of 2013.

Signs and Symptoms

One of the symptoms of conduct disorder is a lower level of fear. Research performed on the impact of toddlers exposed to fear and distress shows that negative emotionality (fear) predicts toddlers’ empathy-related response to distress. The findings support that if a caregiver is able to respond to infant cues, the toddler has a better ability to respond to fear and distress. If a child does not learn how to handle fear or distress the child will be more likely to lash out at other children. If the caregiver is able to provide therapeutic intervention teaching children at risk better empathy skills, the child will have a lower incident level of conduct disorder.

Increased instances of violent and antisocial behaviour are also associated with the condition; examples may range from pushing, hitting and biting when the child is young, progressing towards beating and inflicted cruelty as the child becomes older.

Conduct disorder can present with limited prosocial emotions, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, lack of concern for performance, and shallow or deficient affect. Symptoms vary by individual, but the four main groups of symptoms are described below.

Aggression to People and Animals

  • Often bullies, threatens or intimidates others.
  • Often initiates physical fights.
  • Has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun).
  • Has been physically cruel to people.
  • Has been physically cruel to animals.
  • Has stolen while confronting a victim (e.g. mugging, purse snatching, extortion, armed robbery).
  • Has forced someone into sexual activity (rape or molestation).
  • Feels no remorse or empathy towards the harm, fear, or pain they may have inflicted on others.

Destruction of Property

  • Has deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage.
  • Has deliberately destroyed others’ property (other than by fire setting).

Deceitfulness or Theft

  • Has broken into someone else’s house, building, or car.
  • Often lies to obtain goods or favours or to avoid obligations (i.e. “cons” others).
  • Has stolen items of nontrivial value without confronting a victim (e.g. shoplifting, but without breaking and entering; forgery).

Serious Violations of Rules

  • Often stays out at night despite parental prohibitions, beginning before age 13 years.
  • Has run away from home overnight at least twice while living in parental or parental surrogate home (or once without returning for a lengthy period).
  • Is often truant from school, beginning before age 13 years.

The lack of empathy these individuals have and the aggression that accompanies this carelessness for the consequences is dangerous – not only for the individual but for those around them.

Developmental Course

Currently, two possible developmental courses are thought to lead to conduct disorder. The first is known as the “childhood-onset type” and occurs when conduct disorder symptoms are present before the age of 10 years. This course is often linked to a more persistent life course and more pervasive behaviours. Specifically, children in this group have greater levels of ADHD symptoms, neuropsychological deficits, more academic problems, increased family dysfunction and higher likelihood of aggression and violence.

There is debate among professionals regarding the validity and appropriateness of diagnosing young children with conduct disorder. The characteristics of the diagnosis are commonly seen in young children who are referred to mental health professionals. A premature diagnosis made in young children, and thus labelling and stigmatising an individual, may be inappropriate. It is also argued that some children may not in fact have conduct disorder, but are engaging in developmentally appropriate disruptive behaviour.

The second developmental course is known as the “adolescent-onset type” and occurs when conduct disorder symptoms are present after the age of 10 years. Individuals with adolescent-onset conduct disorder exhibit less impairment than those with the childhood-onset type and are not characterised by similar psychopathology. At times, these individuals will remit in their deviant patterns before adulthood. Research has shown that there is a greater number of children with adolescent-onset conduct disorder than those with childhood-onset, suggesting that adolescent-onset conduct disorder is an exaggeration of developmental behaviours that are typically seen in adolescence, such as rebellion against authority figures and rejection of conventional values. However, this argument is not established and empirical research suggests that these subgroups are not as valid as once thought.

In addition to these two courses that are recognised by the DSM, there appears to be a relationship among oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Specifically, research has demonstrated continuity in the disorders such that conduct disorder is often diagnosed in children who have been previously diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, and most adults with antisocial personality disorder were previously diagnosed with conduct disorder. For example, some research has shown that 90% of children diagnosed with conduct disorder had a previous diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder. Moreover, both disorders share relevant risk factors and disruptive behaviours, suggesting that oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a developmental precursor and milder variant of conduct disorder. However, this is not to say that this trajectory occurs in all individuals. In fact, only about 25% of children with oppositional defiant disorder will receive a later diagnosis of conduct disorder. Correspondingly, there is an established link between conduct disorder and the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder as an adult. In fact, the current diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder require a conduct disorder diagnosis before the age of 15. However, again, only 25-40% of youths with conduct disorder will develop an antisocial personality disorder. Nonetheless, many of the individuals who do not meet full criteria for antisocial personality disorder still exhibit a pattern of social and personal impairments or antisocial behaviours. These developmental trajectories suggest the existence of antisocial pathways in certain individuals, which have important implications for both research and treatment.

Associated Conditions

Children with conduct disorder have a high risk of developing other adjustment problems. Specifically, risk factors associated with conduct disorder and the effects of conduct disorder symptomatology on a child’s psychosocial context have been linked to overlapping with other psychological disorders. In this way, there seems to be reciprocal effects of comorbidity with certain disorders, leading to increased overall risk for these youth.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD is the condition most commonly associated with conduct disorders, with approximately 25-30% of boys and 50-55% of girls with conduct disorder having a comorbid ADHD diagnosis. While it is unlikely that ADHD alone is a risk factor for developing conduct disorder, children who exhibit hyperactivity and impulsivity along with aggression is associated with the early onset of conduct problems. Moreover, children with comorbid conduct disorder and ADHD show more severe aggression.

Substance Use Disorders

Conduct disorder is also highly associated with both substance use and abuse. Children with conduct disorder have an earlier onset of substance use, as compared to their peers, and also tend to use multiple substances. However, substance use disorders themselves can directly or indirectly cause conduct disorder like traits in about half of adolescents who have a substance use disorder. As mentioned above, it seems that there is a transactional relationship between substance use and conduct problems, such that aggressive behaviours increase substance use, which leads to increased aggressive behaviour.

Substance use in conduct disorder can lead to antisocial behaviour in adulthood.

Schizophrenia

Conduct disorder is a precursor to schizophrenia in a minority of cases, with about 40% of men and 31% of women with schizophrenia meeting criteria for childhood conduct disorder.

Cause

While the cause of conduct disorder is complicated by an intricate interplay of biological and environmental factors, identifying underlying mechanisms is crucial for obtaining accurate assessment and implementing effective treatment. These mechanisms serve as the fundamental building blocks on which evidence-based treatments are developed. Despite the complexities, several domains have been implicated in the development of conduct disorder including cognitive variables, neurological factors, intraindividual factors, familial and peer influences, and wider contextual factors. These factors may also vary based on the age of onset, with different variables related to early (e.g. neurodevelopmental basis) and adolescent (e.g. social/peer relationships) onset.

Risks

The development of conduct disorder is not immutable or predetermined. A number of interactive risk and protective factors exist that can influence and change outcomes, and in most cases conduct disorder develops due to an interaction and gradual accumulation of risk factors. In addition to the risk factors identified under cause, several other variables place youth at increased risk for developing the disorder, including child physical abuse, in-utero alcohol exposure, and maternal smoking during pregnancy. Protective factors have also been identified, and most notably include high IQ, being female, positive social orientations, good coping skills, and supportive family and community relationships.

However, a correlation between a particular risk factor and a later developmental outcome (such as conduct disorder) cannot be taken as definitive evidence for a causal link. Co-variation between two variables can arise, for instance, if they represent age-specific expressions of similar underlying genetic factors. For example, the tendency to smoke during pregnancy (SDP) is subject to substantial genetic influence, as is conduct disorder. Thus, the genes that dispose the mother to SDP may also dispose the child to CD following mitotic transmission. Indeed, Rice et al. (2009) found that in mother-fetus pairs that were not genetically related (by virtue of in-vitro fertilisation), no link between SDP and later conduct problems arose. Thus, the distinction between causality and correlation is an important consideration.

Learning Disabilities

While language impairments are most common, approximately 20-25% of youth with conduct disorder have some type of learning disability. Although the relationship between the disorders is complex, it seems as if learning disabilities result from a combination of ADHD, a history of academic difficulty and failure, and long-standing socialisation difficulties with family and peers. However, confounding variables, such as language deficits, SES disadvantage, or neurodevelopmental delay also need to be considered in this relationship, as they could help explain some of the association between conduct disorder and learning problems.

Cognitive Factors

In terms of cognitive function, intelligence and cognitive deficits are common amongst youths with conduct disorder, particularly those with early-onset and have intelligence quotients (IQ) one standard deviation below the mean and severe deficits in verbal reasoning and executive function. Executive function difficulties may manifest in terms of one’s ability to shift between tasks, plan as well as organise, and also inhibit a prepotent response. These findings hold true even after taking into account other variables such as socioeconomic status (SES), and education. However, IQ and executive function deficits are only one piece of the puzzle, and the magnitude of their influence is increased during transactional processes with environmental factors.

Brain Differences

Beyond difficulties in executive function, neurological research on youth with conduct disorder also demonstrate differences in brain anatomy and function that reflect the behaviours and mental anomalies associated in conduct disorder. Compared to normal controls, youths with early and adolescent onset of conduct disorder displayed reduced responses in brain regions associated with social behaviour (i.e. amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, insula, and orbitofrontal cortex). In addition, youths with conduct disorder also demonstrated less responsiveness in the orbitofrontal regions of the brain during a stimulus-reinforcement and reward task. This provides a neural explanation for why youths with conduct disorder may be more likely to repeat poor decision making patterns. Lastly, youths with conduct disorder display a reduction in grey matter volume in the amygdala, which may account for the fear conditioning deficits. This reduction has been linked to difficulty processing social emotional stimuli, regardless of the age of onset. Aside from the differences in neuroanatomy and activation patterns between youth with conduct disorder and controls, neurochemical profiles also vary between groups. Individuals with conduct disorder are characterised as having reduced serotonin and cortisol levels (e.g. reduced hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis), as well as reduced autonomic nervous system (ANS) functioning. These reductions are associated with the inability to regulate mood and impulsive behaviours, weakened signals of anxiety and fear, and decreased self-esteem. Taken together, these findings may account for some of the variance in the psychological and behavioural patterns of youth with conduct disorder.

Intra-Individual Factors

Aside from findings related to neurological and neurochemical profiles of youth with conduct disorder, intraindividual factors such as genetics may also be relevant. Having a sibling or parent with conduct disorder increases the likelihood of having the disorder, with a heritability rate of .53. There also tends to be a stronger genetic link for individuals with childhood-onset compared to adolescent onset. In addition, youth with conduct disorder also exhibit polymorphism in the monoamine oxidase A gene, low resting heart rates, and increased testosterone.

Family and Peer Influences

Elements of the family and social environment may also play a role in the development and maintenance of conduct disorder. For instance, antisocial behaviour suggestive of conduct disorder is associated with single parent status, parental divorce, large family size, and the young age of mothers. However, these factors are difficult to tease apart from other demographic variables that are known to be linked with conduct disorder, including poverty and low socioeconomic status. Family functioning and parent-child interactions also play a substantial role in childhood aggression and conduct disorder, with low levels of parental involvement, inadequate supervision, and unpredictable discipline practices reinforcing youth’s defiant behaviours. Peer influences have also been related to the development of antisocial behaviour in youth, particularly peer rejection in childhood and association with deviant peers. Peer rejection is not only a marker of a number of externalizing disorders, but also a contributing factor for the continuity of the disorders over time. Hinshaw and Lee (2003) also explain that association with deviant peers has been thought to influence the development of conduct disorder in two ways: 1) a “selection” process whereby youth with aggressive characteristics choose deviant friends, and 2) a “facilitation” process whereby deviant peer networks bolster patterns of antisocial behaviour. In a separate study by Bonin and colleagues, parenting programmes were shown to positively affect child behaviour and reduce costs to the public sector.

Wider Contextual Factors

In addition to the individual and social factors associated with conduct disorder, research has highlighted the importance of environment and context in youth with antisocial behaviour. However, it is important to note that these are not static factors, but rather transactional in nature (e.g. individuals are influenced by and also influence their environment). For instance, neighbourhood safety and exposure to violence have been studied in conjunction with conduct disorder, but it is not simply the case that youth with aggressive tendencies reside in violent neighbourhoods. Transactional models propose that youth may resort to violence more often as a result of exposure to community violence, but their predisposition towards violence also contributes to neighbourhood climate.

Diagnosis

Conduct disorder is classified in the fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is diagnosed based on a prolonged pattern of antisocial behaviour such as serious violation of laws and social norms and rules in people younger than the age of 18. Similar criteria are used in those over the age of 18 for the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. No proposed revisions for the main criteria of conduct disorder exist in the DSM-5; there is a recommendation by the work group to add an additional specifier for callous and unemotional traits. According to DSM-5 criteria for conduct disorder, there are four categories that could be present in the child’s behaviour: aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violation of rules.

Almost all adolescents who have a substance use disorder have conduct disorder-like traits, but after successful treatment of the substance use disorder, about half of these adolescents no longer display conduct disorder-like symptoms. Therefore, it is important to exclude a substance-induced cause and instead address the substance use disorder prior to making a psychiatric diagnosis of conduct disorder.

Treatment

First-line treatment is psychotherapy based on behaviour modification and problem-solving skills. This treatment seeks to integrate individual, school, and family settings. Parent-management training can also be helpful. No medications have been FDA approved for Conduct Disorder, but Risperidone (a second-generation antipsychotic) has the most evidence to support its use for aggression in children who have not responded to behavioural and psychosocial interventions. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are also sometimes used to treat irritability in these patients.

Prognosis

About 25-40% of youths diagnosed with conduct disorder qualify for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder when they reach adulthood. For those that do not develop ASPD, most still exhibit social dysfunction in adult life.

Epidemiology

Conduct disorder is estimated to affect 51.1 million people globally as of 2013. The percentage of children affected by conduct disorder is estimated to range from 1-10%. However, among incarcerated youth or youth in juvenile detention facilities, rates of conduct disorder are between 23% and 87%.

Sex Differences

The majority of research on conduct disorder suggests that there are a significantly greater number of males than females with the diagnosis, with some reports demonstrating a threefold to fourfold difference in prevalence. However, this difference may be somewhat biased by the diagnostic criteria which focus on more overt behaviours, such as aggression and fighting, which are more often exhibited by males. Females are more likely to be characterised by covert behaviours, such as stealing or running away. Moreover, conduct disorder in females is linked to several negative outcomes, such as antisocial personality disorder and early pregnancy, suggesting that sex differences in disruptive behaviours need to be more fully understood.

Females are more responsive to peer pressure including feelings of guilt than males.

Racial Differences

Research on racial or cultural differences on the prevalence or presentation of conduct disorder is limited. However, according to studies on American youth, it appears that African-American youth are more often diagnosed with conduct disorder, while Asian-American youth are about one-third as likely to develop conduct disorder when compared to White American youth. It has been widely theorised for decades that this disparity is due to unconscious bias in those who give the diagnosis.

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Introduction

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is listed in the DSM-5 under Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders and defined as “a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness” in children and adolescents.

This behaviour is usually targeted toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Unlike children with conduct disorder (CD), children with oppositional defiant disorder are not aggressive towards people or animals, do not destroy property, and do not show a pattern of theft or deceit. It has certain links to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and as much as one half of children with ODD will also diagnose as having ADHD as well.

Brief History

Oppositional defiant disorder was first defined in the DSM-III (1980). Since the introduction of ODD as an independent disorder, the field trials to inform the definition of this disorder have included predominantly male subjects. Some clinicians have debated whether the diagnostic criteria presented above would be clinically relevant for use with females. Furthermore, some have questioned whether gender-specific criteria and thresholds should be included. Additionally, some clinicians have questioned the preclusion of ODD when conduct disorder is present. According to Dickstein, the DSM-5 attempts to:

“redefine ODD by emphasizing a ‘persistent pattern of angry and irritable mood along with vindictive behavior,’ rather than DSM-IV’s focus exclusively on negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior.’ Although DSM-IV implied, but did not mention, irritability, DSM-5 now includes three symptom clusters, one of which is ‘angry/irritable mood’—defined as ‘loses temper, is touchy/easily annoyed by others, and is angry/resentful.’ This suggests that the process of clinically relevant research driving nosology, and vice versa, has ensured that the future will bring greater understanding of ODD”.

Epidemiology

ODD, is a pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviour, and is one of the most prevalent disorders from preschool age to adulthood. ODD is marked by defiant and disobedient behaviour towards authority figures. This can include: frequent temper tantrums, excessive arguing with adults, refusing to follow rules, acting in a way to purposely upset others, getting easily irked, having an angry attitude, and acting vindictive. Children with ODD usually begin showing symptoms around 6 to 8, although the disorder can emerge in younger children, too. Symptoms can last throughout the teen years. The pooled prevalence is approximately 3.6% up to age 18. There has been research to support that ODD is more common in boys than girls with a 2:1 ratio.

ODD has a prevalence of 1% to 11%. The average prevalence is approximately 3.3%. Gender and age play an important role in the rate of the disorder. In fact, ODD gradually develops and becomes apparent in preschool years; often before the age of eight years old. However, it is very unlikely to emerge following early adolescence. There is difference in prevalence between boys and girls. The ratio of this prevalence is 1.4 to 1 with it being more prevalent in boys than in girls, before adolescence. On the other hand, girls’ prevalence tends to increase after puberty. When researchers observed the general prevalence of oppositional defiant disorder throughout cultures, they noticed that it remained constant. However, the sex difference in ODD prevalence is only significant in Western cultures. There are two possible explanations for this difference which are that in non-Western cultures there is a decreased prevalence of ODD in boys or an increased prevalence of ODD in girls. Other factors can influence the prevalence of the disorder. One of these factors is the socioeconomic status. Youths living in families of low socioeconomic status have a higher prevalence. Another factor is based on the criteria used to diagnose an individual. When the disorder was first included in the DSM-III, the prevalence was 25% higher than when the DSM-IV revised the criteria of diagnosis. The DSM-V made more changes to the criteria grouping certain characteristics together in order to demonstrate that ODD display both emotional and behavioural symptomatology. In addition, criteria were added to help guide clinicians in diagnosis because of the difficulty found in identifying whether the behaviours or symptoms are directly related to the disorder or simply a phase in a child’s life. Consequently, future studies may obtain results indicating a decline in prevalence between the DSM-IV and the DSM-V due to these changes.

Signs and Symptoms

DSM-IV-TR) (now replaced by DSM-5) stated that a child must exhibit four out of the eight signs and symptoms to meet the diagnostic threshold for oppositional defiant disorder. These symptoms include:

  1. Often loses temper.
  2. Is often touchy or easily annoyed.
  3. Is often angry and resentful.
  4. Often argues with authority figures or for children and adolescents, with adults.
  5. Often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules.
  6. Often deliberately annoys others.
  7. Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviour.
  8. Has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past 6 months.

These behaviours are mostly directed towards an authority figure such as a teacher or a parent. Although these behaviours can be typical among siblings, they must be observed with individuals other than siblings for an ODD diagnosis. Children with ODD can be verbally aggressive. However, they do not display physical aggressiveness, a behaviour observed in conduct disorder. Furthermore, they must be perpetuated for longer than six months and must be considered beyond a normal child’s age, gender and culture to fit the diagnosis. For children under 5 years of age, they occur on most days over a period of 6 months. For children over 5 years of age they occur at least once a week for at least 6 months. It is possible to observe these symptoms in only one setting, most commonly home. Thus the severity would be mild. If it is observed in two settings then it would be characterised as moderate and if the symptoms are observed in 3 or more settings then it would be considered severe.

These patterns of behaviour result in impairment at school and/or other social venues.

Aetiology

There is no specific element that has yet been identified as directly causing ODD. Researchers looking precisely at the etiological factors linked with ODD are limited. The literature often examines common risk factors linked with all disruptive behaviours, rather than specifically about ODD. Symptoms of ODD are also often believed to be the same as CD even though the disorders have their own respective set of symptoms. When looking at disruptive behaviours such as ODD, research has shown that the causes of behaviours are multifactorial. However, disruptive behaviours have been identified as being mostly due either to biological or environmental factors.

Genetic Influences

Research indicates that parents pass on a tendency for externalising disorders to their children that may be displayed in multiple ways, such as inattention, hyperactivity, or oppositional and conduct problems. Research has also shown that there is a genetic overlap between ODD and other externalising disorders. Heritability can vary by age, age of onset, and other factors. Adoption and twin studies indicate that 50% or more of the variance causing antisocial behaviour is attributable to heredity for both males and females. ODD also tends to occur in families with a history of ADHD, substance use disorders, or mood disorders, suggesting that a vulnerability to develop ODD may be inherited. A difficult temperament, impulsivity, and a tendency to seek rewards can also increase the risk of developing ODD. New studies into gene variants have also identified possible gene-environment (G x E) interactions, specifically in the development of conduct problems. A variant of the gene that encodes the neurotransmitter metabolising enzyme monoamine oxidase-A (MAOA), which relates to neural systems involved in aggression, plays a key role in regulating behaviour following threatening events. Brain imaging studies show patterns of arousal in areas of the brain that are associated with aggression in response to emotion-provoking stimuli.

Prenatal Factors and Birth Complications

Many pregnancy and birth problems are related to the development of conduct problems. Malnutrition, specifically protein deficiency, lead poisoning or exposure to lead, and mother’s use of alcohol or other substances during pregnancy may increase the risk of developing ODD. In numerous research, substance use prior to birth has also been associated with developing disruptive behaviours such as ODD. Although pregnancy and birth factors are correlated with ODD, strong evidence of direct biological causation is lacking.

Neurobiological Factors

Deficits and injuries to certain areas of the brain can lead to serious behavioural problems in children. Brain imaging studies have suggested that children with ODD may have hypofunction in the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, judgment, and impulse control. Children with ODD are thought to have an overactive behavioural activation system (BAS) and an underactive behavioural inhibition system (BIS) (both discussed here). The BAS stimulates behaviour in response to signals of reward or non-punishment. The BIS produces anxiety and inhibits ongoing behaviour in the presence of novel events, innate fear stimuli, and signals of non-reward or punishment. Neuroimaging studies have also identified structural and functional brain abnormalities in several brain regions in youths with conduct disorders. These brain regions are the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, and insula, as well as interconnected regions.

Social-Cognitive Factors

As many as 40% of boys and 25% of girls with persistent conduct problems display significant social-cognitive impairments. Some of these deficits include immature forms of thinking (such as egocentrism), failure to use verbal mediators to regulate his or her behaviour, and cognitive distortions, such as interpreting a neutral event as an intentional hostile act. Children with ODD have difficulty controlling their emotions or behaviours. In fact, students with ODD have limited social knowledge that is based only on individual experiences, which shapes how they process information and solve problems cognitively. This information can be linked with the social information processing model (SIP) that describes how children process information to respond appropriately or inappropriately in social settings. This model explains that children will go through five stages before displaying behaviours: encoding, mental representations, response accessing, evaluation, and enactment. However, children with ODD have cognitive distortions and impaired cognitive processes. This will therefore directly impact their interactions and relationship negatively. It has been shown that social and cognitive impairments result in negative peer relationships, loss of friendship, and an interruption in socially engaging in activities. Children learn through observational learning and social learning. Therefore, observations of models have a direct impact and greatly influence children’s behaviours and decision-making processes. Children often learn through modelling behaviour. Modelling can act as a powerful tool to modify children’s cognition and behaviours.

Environmental Factors

Negative parenting practices and parent-child conflict may lead to antisocial behaviour, but they may also be a reaction to the oppositional and aggressive behaviours of children. Factors such as a family history of mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders as well as a dysfunctional family and inconsistent discipline by a parent or guardian can lead to the development of behaviour disorders. Parenting practices not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to situations as well as a high ratio of conflicting events within a family are causal factors of risk for developing ODD.

Insecure parent-child attachments can also contribute to ODD. Often little internalisation of parent and societal standards exists in children with conduct problems. These weak bonds with their parents may lead children to associate with delinquency and substance use. Family instability and stress can also contribute to the development of ODD. Although the association between family factors and conduct problems is well established, the nature of this association and the possible causal role of family factors continues to be debated.

In a number of studies, low socioeconomic status has also been associated with disruptive behaviors such as ODD.

Other social factors such as neglect, abuse, parents that are not involved, and lack of supervision can also contribute to ODD.

Externalising problems are reported to be more frequent among minority-status youth, a finding that is likely related to economic hardship, limited employment opportunities, and living in high-risk urban neighbourhoods. Studies have also found that the state of being exposed to violence was also a contribution factor for externalizing behaviours to occur.

Diagnosis

For a child or adolescent to qualify for a diagnosis of ODD, behaviours must cause considerable distress for the family or interfere significantly with academic or social functioning. Interference might take the form of preventing the child or adolescent from learning at school or making friends or placing him or her in harmful situations. These behaviours must also persist for at least six months. Effects of ODD can be greatly amplified by other disorders in comorbidity such as ADHD. Other common comorbid disorders include depression and substance use disorders.

Management

Approaches to the treatment of ODD include parent management training, individual psychotherapy, family therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and social skills training. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, treatments for ODD are tailored specifically to the individual child, and different treatment techniques are applied for pre-schoolers and adolescents.

Children with oppositional defiant disorder tend to exhibit problematic behaviour that can be very difficult to control. An occupational therapist can recommend family based education referred to as Parent Management Training (PMT) in order to encourage positive parents and child relationships and reduce the child’s tantrums and other disruptive behaviours. Since ODD is a neurological disorder that has biological correlates, an occupational therapist can also provide problem solving training to encourage positive coping skills when difficult situations arise, as well as offer cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Psychopharmacological Treatment

Psychopharmacological treatment is the use of prescribed medication in managing oppositional defiant disorder. Prescribed medications to control ODD include mood stabilisers, anti-psychotics, and stimulants. In two controlled randomised trials, it was found that between administered lithium and the placebo group, administering lithium decreased aggression in children with conduct disorder in a safe manner. However, a third study found the treatment of lithium over a period of two weeks invalid. Other drugs seen in studies include haloperidol, thioridazine, and methylphenidate which also is effective in treating ADHD, as it is a common comorbidity.

The effectiveness of drug and medication treatment is not well established. Effects that can result in taking these medications include hypotension, extrapyramidal symptoms, tardive dyskinesia, obesity, and increase in weight. Psychopharmacological treatment is found to be most effective when paired with another treatment plan, such as individual intervention or multimodal intervention.

In one case, a 16-year-old boy was given oestrogen at an L.A. juvenile jail due to allegedly having ODD due to somewhat elevated testosterone levels, developing gynecomastia and requiring breast reduction surgery as a result.

Individual Interventions

Individual interventions are focused on child-specific individualised plans. These interventions include anger control/stress inoculation, assertiveness training, and child-focused problem-solving skills training programme, and self-monitoring skills.

Anger control and stress inoculation help prepare the child for possible upsetting situations or events that may cause anger and stress. It includes a process of steps they may go through.

Assertiveness training educates individuals in keeping a balance between passivity and aggression. It is about creating a response that is controlled, and fair.

A child-focused problem-solving skills training programme aims to teach the child new skills and cognitive processes that teach how to deal with negative thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Parent and Family Treatment

According to randomised trials evidence shows that parent management training is most effective. It has strong influences over a longer period of time and in various environments.

Parent-child interaction training is intended to coach the parents while involving the child. This training has two phases. The first phase being child-directed interaction, whereby it is focused on teaching the child non-directive play skills. The second phase is parent-directed interaction, where the parents are coached on aspects including clear instruction, praise for compliance, and time-out for noncompliance. The parent-child interaction training is best suited for elementary-aged children.

Parent and family treatment has a low financial cost, which can yield an increase in beneficial results.

Multimodal Intervention

Multimodal intervention is an effective treatment that looks at different levels including family, peers, school, and neighbourhood. It is an intervention that concentrates on multiple risk factors. The focus is on parent training, classroom social skills, and playground behaviour programmes. The intervention is intensive and addresses barriers to individuals’ improvement such as parental substance use or parental marital conflict.

An impediment to treatment includes the nature of the disorder itself, whereby treatment is often not complied with and is not continued or stuck with for adequate periods of time.

Comorbidity

ODD can be described as a term or disorder with a variety of pathways in regard to comorbidity. High importance must be given to the representation of ODD as a distinct psychiatric disorder independent of conduct disorder.

In the context of oppositional defiant disorder and comorbidity with other disorders, researchers often conclude that ODD co-occurs with an ADHD, anxiety disorders, emotional disorders as well as mood disorders. Those mood disorders can be linked to major depression or bipolar disorder. Indirect consequences of ODD can also be related or associated with a later mental disorder. For instance, conduct disorder is often studied in connection with ODD. Strong comorbidity can be observed within those two disorders, but an even higher connection with ADHD in relation to ODD can be seen. For instance, children or adolescents who have ODD with coexisting ADHD will usually be more aggressive, will have more of the negative behavioural symptoms of ODD and thus, inhibit them from having a successful academic life. This will be reflected in their academic path as students.

Other conditions that can be predicted in children or people with ODD are learning disorders in which the person has significant impairments with academics and language disorders in which problems can be observed related to language production and/or comprehension.