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.

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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.

An Overview of Bipolar Disorder in Children

Introduction

Bipolar disorder in children, or paediatric bipolar disorder (PBD), is a controversial mental disorder in children and adolescents that is mainly diagnosed in the United States, and is hypothesized to be like bipolar disorder (BD) in adults, thus is proposed as an explanation for extreme changes in mood and behaviour accompanying periods of depressed or irritable moods and periods of elevated moods so called manic or hypomanic episodes.

These shifts are sometimes quick, but usually are gradual. The average age of onset of paediatric bipolar disorder is unclear, but the risk increases with the onset of puberty. Bipolar disorder is rare in childhood. Paediatric bipolar disorder is typically more severe and has a poorer prognosis than bipolar disorder with onset in late-adolescence or adulthood.

The DSM has specified that the criteria for bipolar disorder can be applied to children since 1980. However, the exact criteria for diagnosing paediatric bipolar disorder remains controversial and heavily debated. There are big differences in how commonly it is diagnosed across clinics and in different countries. There has been a rapid increase in research on the topic, but training and clinical practice lag behind.

Identifying bipolar disorder in youth is challenging. Children often exhibit chronic rather than episodic mania periods. Almost always, these chronic problems have causes other than bipolar disorder. The criteria for paediatric bipolar disorder can also often be masked by developmental differences. Comorbid disorders make determining what symptoms are signs of bipolar disorder and which are due to other disorders (e.g. OCD, ADHD, disruptive behaviour problems) difficult, leading to complications in treatment. For example, a common treatment for OCD are serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SRIs), however, SRIs can lead to mood instability and worsening bipolar disorder.[5] The most common misdiagnosis for ADHD in the USA is paediatric bipolar disorder due to hyperactivity being described as prolonged periods of mania. Empirical research conducted in 2004 found that “bipolar disorder (in preadolescence) was initially misdiagnosed in 12 out of 24 youths” (Mahoney, 2004). This is a dangerous misdiagnosis due to the vastly different treatment forms. Firstly, ADHD does not require mood stabilisers like paediatric bipolar disorder. Secondly, the stimulants given to treat ADHD have been shown to cause psychosis and exacerbate mania in paediatric bipolar disorder (Wendling, 2009). This misuse of medication can lead to mood episodes, suicidality, and hospitalisation.

Brief History

Descriptions of children with symptoms similar to contemporary concepts of mania date back to the 18th century. In 1898, a detailed psychiatric case history was published about a 13-year-old that met Jean-Pierre Falret and Jules Baillarger’s criteria for folie circulaire, which is congruent to the modern conception of bipolar I disorder.

In Emil Kraepelin’s descriptions of bipolar disorder in the 1920s, which he called “manic depressive insanity”, he noted the rare possibility that it could occur in children. In addition to Kraepelin, Adolf Meyer, Karl Abraham, and Melanie Klein were some of the first to document bipolar disorder symptoms in children in the first half of the 20th century. It was not mentioned much in English literature until the 1970s when interest in researching the subject increased. It became more accepted as a diagnosis in children in the 1980s after the DSM-III (1980) specified that the same criteria for diagnosing bipolar disorder in adults could also be applied to children.

Recognition came twenty years after, with epidemiological studies showing that approximately 20% of adults with bipolar disorder already had symptoms in childhood or adolescence. Nevertheless, onset before age 10 was thought to be rare, below 0.5% of the cases. During the second half of the century misdiagnosis with schizophrenia was not rare in the non-adult population due to common co-occurrence of psychosis and mania, this issue diminishing with an increased following of the DSM criteria in the last part of the 20th century.

Epidemiology

The prevalence of bipolar in youth is estimated at 2%.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is made based on a clinical interview by a psychiatrist or other licensed mental health practitioner. There are no blood tests or brain scans to diagnose bipolar disorder. Obtaining information on family history and the use of questionnaires and checklists are helpful in making an accurate diagnosis. Commonly used assessment tools include the:

Signs and Symptoms

In both the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 and the World Health Organisation’s ICD-10, the same criteria used to diagnose bipolar disorder in adults are used to make the diagnosis in children with some adjustments to account for differences in age and developmental stage. For example, the DSM-5 specifies that in children, depressive episodes can manifest as persistently irritable moods.

In diagnosing manic episodes, it is important to compare the changes in mood and behaviour to the child’s normal mood and behaviours at baseline instead of to other children or adults. For example, grandiosity (i.e. unrealistic overestimation of one’s intelligence, talent, or abilities) is normal at varying degrees during childhood and adolescence. Therefore, grandiosity is only considered symptomatic of mania in children when the beliefs are held despite being presented with concrete evidence otherwise or when they lead to a child attempting activities that are clearly dangerous, and most importantly, when the grandiose beliefs are an obvious change from that particular child’s normal self-view in between episodes.

Controversy

The diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder is controversial, although it is recognised that bipolar disorder typical symptoms are dysfunctional and have negative consequences for minors suffering them. Main discussion is centred on whether what is called bipolar disorder in children refers to the same disorder than when diagnosing adults, and the related question on whether adults’ criteria for diagnosis are useful and accurate when applied to children. More specifically, main discussion over diagnosis in children circles around mania symptomatology and its differences between children and adults.

Diagnostic criteria may not correctly separate children with bipolar disorder from other problems such as ADHD, and emphasize fast mood cycles.

Treatment

Medications can produce important side effects, so interventions have been recommended to be closely monitored and families of patients to be informed of the different possible problems that can arise. Atypical antipsychotics are more effective than mood stabilizers, but have more side effects. Typical antipsychotics may produce weight gains as well as other metabolic problems, including diabetes mellitus type 2 and hyperlipidaemia. Extrapyramidal secondary effects may appear with these medications. These include tardive dyskinesia, a difficult-to-treat movement disorder (dyskinesia) that can appear after long-term use of antipsychotics. Liver and kidney damage are a possibility with mood stabilisers.

Psychological treatment usually includes some combination of education on the disease, group therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Children with bipolar disorder and their families are informed, in ways accordingly to their age and family role, about the different aspects of bipolar disorder and its management including causes, signs and symptoms and treatments. Group therapy aims to improve social skills and manage group conflicts, with role-playing as a critical tool. Finally, cognitive-behavioural training is directed towards the participants having a better understanding and control over their emotions and behaviours.

  • BPD I, manic or mixed, without psychosis:
    • Stage 1: Monotherapy with a mood stabiliser (lithium, Divalproex, or carbamazepine), or atypical antipsychotic (olanzapine, quetiapine, or risperidone).
      • Lithium or Divalproex is recommended for first-line treatment.
      • Partial (minimal to moderate) improvement with monotherapy, augment with another of the first-line recommendations.
    • Stage 2: Monotherapy with an alternative drug, then augmentation.
    • Stage 3: Possible medication combinations – lithium plus Divalproex, lithium plus atypical, or Divalproex plus atypical.
    • Stage 4: Combination of 2-3 mood stabilisers.
    • Stage 5: Alternate monotherapy with oxcarbazepine, ziprasidone, or aripiprazole (all Level D).
    • Stage 6: For nonresponse or intolerable side effects – clozapine for children or adolescents, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for adolescents only.
  • BPD I, manic or mixed, with psychosis:
    • Stage 1: Same as BPD I without psychosis except for first-line treatment warrants a combination of mood stabiliser and an atypical antipsychotic.
    • Stages 2-4: Varying combinations and augmentations.
    • Stage 5: Alternate monotherapy (oxcarbazepine) plus an atypical antipsychotic.

Prognosis

Chronic medication is often needed, with relapses of individuals reaching rates over 90% in those not following medication indications and almost to 40% in those complying with medication regimens in some studies. Compared to adults, a juvenile onset has in general a similar or worse course, although age of onset predicts the duration of the episodes more than the prognosis. A risk factor for a worse outcome is the existence of additional (comorbid) pathologies.

Children with bipolar disorder are more likely to suicide than other children.

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.

What is Resignation Syndrome?

Introduction

Resignation syndrome (also called traumatic withdrawal syndrome or traumatic refusal; Swedish: uppgivenhetssyndrom) is a possibly factitious, dissociative syndrome that induces a catatonic state, first described in Sweden in the 1990s. The condition affects predominately psychologically traumatised children and adolescents in the midst of a strenuous and lengthy migration process.

Refer to Pervasive Refusal Syndrome (PRS).

Young people reportedly develop depressive symptoms, become socially withdrawn, and become motionless and speechless as a reaction to stress and hopelessness. In the worst cases, children reject any food or drink and have to be fed by feeding tube; the condition can persist for years. Recovery ensues within months to years and is claimed to be dependent on the restoration of hope to the family.

More recently, this phenomenon has been called into question, with two children witnessing that they were forced by their parents to act apathetic in order to increase chances of being granted residence permits. As evidenced by medical records, healthcare professionals were aware of this scam, and witnessed parents who actively refused aid for their children but remained silent at the time. Later Sveriges Television, Sweden’s national public television broadcaster, were severely critiqued by investigative journalist Janne Josefsson for failing to uncover the truth. In March 2020, a report citing the Swedish Agency for Medical and Social Evaluation, SBU, said “There are no scientific studies that answer how to diagnose abandonment syndrome, nor what treatment works.”

Signs and Symptoms

Affected individuals (predominantly children and adolescents) first exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression (in particular apathy, lethargy), then withdraw from others and care for themselves. Eventually their condition might progress to stupor, i.e. they stop walking, eating, talking, and grow incontinent. In this stage patients are seemingly unconscious and tube feeding is life-sustaining. The condition could persist for months or even years. Remission happens after life circumstances improve and ensues with gradual return to what appears to be normal function.

Nosology

Refusal syndrome and pervasive refusal syndrome shares common features and etiologic factors; however, the former is more clearly associated with trauma and adverse life circumstances. Neither is included in the standard psychiatric classification systems.

Pervasive refusal syndrome (also called pervasive arousal withdrawal syndrome) has been conceptualised in a variety of ways, including a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, learned helplessness, ‘lethal mothering’, loss of the internal parent, apathy or the ‘giving-up’ syndrome, depressive devitalisation, primitive ‘freeze’, severe loss of activities of daily living and ‘manipulative’ illness. It was also suggested to be on the ‘refusal-withdrawal-regression spectrum’.

Acknowledging its social importance and relevance, the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare recognised the novel diagnostic entity resignation syndrome in 2014. While others argue that already-existing diagnostic entities should be used and are sufficient in the majority of cases, i.e. severe major depressive disorder with psychotic symptoms or catatonia, or conversion/dissociation disorder.

Currently, diagnostic criteria are undetermined, pathogenesis is uncertain, and effective treatment is lacking.

Causes

Resignation syndrome appears to be a very specialised response to the trauma of refugee limbo, in which families, many of whom have escaped dangerous circumstances in their home countries, wait to be granted legal permission to stay in their new country, often undergoing numerous refusals and appeals over a period of years.

Experts proposed multifactorial explanatory models involving individual vulnerability, traumatisation, migration, culturally conditioned reaction patterns and parental dysfunction or pathological adaption to a caregiver’s expectations to interplay in pathogenesis. Severe depression or conversion/dissociation disorder has been also suggested (as best diagnostic alternatives).

However, the currently prevailing stress hypothesis fails to account for the regional distribution (see Epidemiology) and contributes little to treatment. An asserted “questioning attitude”, in particular within the health care system, it has been claimed, may constitute a “perpetuating retraumatization possibly explaining the endemic” distribution. Furthermore, Sweden’s experience raises concerns about “contagion”. Researchers argue that culture-bound psychogenesis can accommodate the endemic distribution because children may learn that dissociation is a way to deal with trauma.

A proposed neurobiological model of the disorder suggests that the impact of overwhelming negative expectations are directly causative of the down-regulation of higher order and lower order behavioural systems in particularly vulnerable individuals.

Epidemiology

Depicted as a culture-bound syndrome, it was first observed and described in Sweden among children of asylum seekers from former Soviet and Yugoslav countries. In Sweden, hundreds of migrant children, facing the possibility of deportation, have been diagnosed since the 1990s. For example, 424 cases were reported between 2003 and 2005; and 2.8% of all 6547 asylum applications submitted for children were diagnosed in 2004.

It has also been observed in refugee children transferred from Australia to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. The Economist wrote in 2018 that Doctors without Borders (MSF) refused to say how many of the children on Nauru may be suffering from traumatic withdrawal syndrome. A report published in August 2018 suggested there were at least 30. The National Justice Project, a legal centre, has brought 35 children from Nauru this year. It estimates that seven were suffering from refusal syndrome, and three were psychotic.

What is Pervasive Refusal Syndrome?

Introduction

Pervasive refusal syndrome (PRS), also known as pervasive arousal withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a rare hypothesized paediatric mental disorder. PRS is not included in the standard psychiatric classification systems; that is, PRS is not a recognised mental disorder in the World Health Organisation’s current (ICD-10) and upcoming (ICD-11) International Classification of Diseases and the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Refer to Resignation Syndrome.

Purported Signs and Symptoms

According to some authors, PRS symptoms have common characteristics with other psychiatric disorders, but (according to these authors), current psychiatric classification schemes, such as the DSM cannot account for the full scope of symptoms seen in PRS. Purported symptoms include partial or complete refusal to eat, move, talk, or care for oneself; active and angry resistance to acts of help and support; social withdrawal; and school refusal.

Hypothesized Causes

Trauma might be a causal factor because PRS is repeatedly seen in refugees and witnesses to violence. Viral infections might be a risk factor for PRS.

Mechanism

Some authors hypothesize that learned helplessness is one of the mechanisms involved in PRS. A number of cases have been reported in the context of eating disorders.

Hypothesized Epidemiology

Epidemiological studies are lacking. Pervasive refusal syndrome is reportedly more frequent in girls than boys. The average age of onset is purported to be 7-15.

What is a School Psychological Examiner?

Introduction

In the United States education system, School Psychological Examiners assess the needs of students in schools for special education services or other interventions.

The post requires a relevant postgraduate qualification and specialist training. This role is distinct within school psychology from that of the psychiatrist, clinical psychologist and psychometrist.

Role of Psychological Examiners in Schools

School Psychological Examiners are assessors licensed by a State Department of Education to work with students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade in public schools, interviewing, observing, and administering and interpreting standardised testing instruments that measure cognitive and academic abilities, or describe behaviour, personality characteristics, attitude or aptitude, in order to determine eligibility for special education services, placement, or conduct re-evaluation, or occupational guidance and planning.

The work of the School Psychological Examiners is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. They prepare psychoeducational evaluation reports based on test results and interpretation. Integrated with case history, the evaluation reports should present an accurate and clear profile of a student’s level of functioning or disability, strengths and weaknesses, compare test results with the standards of the evaluation instruments, analyse potential test biases, and develop appropriate recommendations to help direct educational interventions and services in a most inclusive and least restrictive environment. Evaluation reports are framed by laws and regulations applicable to testing and assessment in special education, and must follow school district policies and the codes of ethics applicable to education, special education, and psychological assessment.

School Psychological Examiners also provide psychoeducational interventions such as consultation services, collaboration in behaviour management planning and monitoring, and devising social skills training programmes in public schools.

Unless additionally trained and licensed, School Psychological Examiners do not offer or provide psychotherapy or clinical diagnostic/treatment services, which are attributions of licensed psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, as provided by law and professional regulations.

Qualifications

School Psychological Examiners are highly trained and experienced educators who hold a master’s or higher degree in education or school counselling and at least one endorsement in special education. In addition to school district policies, School Psychological Examiners are bound by professional regulations, as well as by the ethical codes of testing and measurement. Other designations for School Psychological Examiners include ‘Educational Examiners’ or ‘Psychoeducational Examiners.’ Designation of this specialty varies among different school districts.

‘Psychometrist,’ from the term psychometrics, is an occupational designation not inclusive of the broader faculties of School Psychological Examiners. Psychometrists deal exclusively with quantitative test administration, do not require coursework beyond the bachelor’s level, or licensure by a state department of education. Training of psychometrists is primarily done on-the-job, and their services are valuable in mental health community agencies, assessment and institutional research, or test-producing companies, etc., rather than in K-12 schools.

Graduate Training and Licensure of School Psychological Examiners

Typical training includes coursework beyond the Master of Education, Master of Science in Education, or Master of Arts in Teaching degrees. Currently, School Psychological Examiners complete the courses required by their state department of education rather than by a prescribed self-contained programme of studies. The coursework is equivalent to an entire Specialist or Doctoral Degree; unfortunately just a handful of institutions of higher education offer this kind of self-standing graduate programme. Graduate courses of a psychological nature include:

  • Special Education Law.
  • Advanced Child and Adolescent Growth and Development.
  • Psychology of Students with Exceptionalities.
  • Abnormal Child and Adult Psychology.
  • Advanced Statistics and Research in Education and Psychology.
  • Tests and measurements.
  • Assessment and Evaluation of the Individual.
  • Individual Intelligence quotient.
  • Group Assessment.
  • Diagnostics and Remedial Reading.
  • Ethical issues in education and psychological measurement and evaluation reporting.
  • Methods of Instructing Students with Mild/Moderate Disabilities.
  • Methods of Instructing Students with Severe to Profound Disabilities.
  • Survey of Guidance and Counselling Techniques.
  • Practicum for School Psychological Examiners (150 supervised contact hours).

Licensure as School Psychological Examiner demands experience in a special education or school counselling setting, satisfactory completion of the required graduate coursework and practicum, plus a passing score on the ‘Praxis II Special Education: Knowledge-Based Core Principles’. Graduate school recommendation and verification of experience by the employing school district complete the requirements. In addition to the practicum, on-the-job mentoring supervision for at least two school years, sometimes four years, allows the transition from initial licensure to standard professional licensure. An annual professional development plan and ongoing performance-based evaluation ensure ‘High Quality’ professionalism as required by the No Child Left Behind law and related regulations.

Competencies

The clinical and technical skills needed to be a competent behavioural and clinical assessor include the abilities to do the following (Sattler & Hoge, 2006):

  • Establish and maintain rapport with children, parents, and teachers.
  • Use effective assessment techniques appropriate for evaluating children’s behaviour.
  • Use effective techniques for obtaining accurate and complete information from parents and teachers.
  • Evaluate the psychometric properties of tests and other measures.
  • Select an appropriate assessment battery.
  • Administer and score tests and other assessment tools by following standardised procedures.
  • Observe and evaluate behaviour objectively.
  • Perform informal assessments.
  • Interpret assessment results.
  • Use assessment findings to develop effective interventions.
  • Communicate assessment findings effectively, both orally and in writing.
  • Adhere to ethical standards.
  • Read and interpret research in behavioural and clinical assessment.
  • Keep up with laws and regulations concerning the assessment and placement of children with special needs.

Additionally, high quality School Psychological Examiners exhibit proficiency-level knowledge on:

  • The provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act and related legislation.
  • State and federal laws, and all the applicable regulations, policies, and standards pertaining the provision of psychosocial and educational services to disabled individuals.
  • Children and adolescents’ advanced development and behaviour.
  • Multicultural factors in attitudes and behaviours.
  • Analysis and diagnosis of learning problems including special consideration of low incidence populations.
  • Integration of knowledge, facts, and theory on classroom environment, psychosocial principles, and test results, to plan for prescriptive instruction, management, and education of students with special needs.
  • Focused and methodical psychoeducational evaluation reporting, providing sound and accurate information and research-based remediation recommendations to improve individual student’s learning, achievement, and behavioural performance.
  • Teamwork and collaboration for the process of staffing with other school professionals and collaborative development of instructional strategies for students with special needs.
  • Provision of assistance with instructional modifications or accommodations, and programming or transition recommendations for the Individualised Education Programme (IEP).
  • Accountability for the monitoring and outcome assessment of services and interventions.

Evaluation Standards

Evaluation standards provide guidelines for designing, implementing, assessing, and reporting the psychoeducational evaluation reported by school psychological examiners. The evaluation is informed by professional codes of ethics.

  • Standards for Qualifications of Test Users.
  • Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education.
  • Standards for Multicultural Assessment.
  • Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.

Reference

Sattler, J. M. & Hoge, R. D. (2006). Assessment of Children: Behavioral, Social, and Clinical Foundations. 5th Ed. San Diego, CA: Jerome M. Sattler Publisher, Inc. p.2.