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Diagnostic trajectories in child and adolescent mental health services: exploring the prevalence and patterns of diagnostic adjustments in an electronic mental health case register

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Cliodhna O’Connor, Jonathan Muir Downs, Hitesh Shetty, Fiona McNicholas

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Early online date2 Nov 2019
Accepted/In press20 Oct 2019
E-pub ahead of print2 Nov 2019


King's Authors


Community-based epidemiological studies show transitions between psychiatric disorders are common during child development. However, little research has explored the prevalence or patterns of the diagnostic adjustments that occur in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). Understanding diagnostic trajectories is necessary to inform theory development in developmental psychopathology and clinical judgements regarding risk and prognosis. In this study, data from CAMHS clinical records were extracted from a British mental health case register (N = 12,543). Analysis calculated the proportion of children whose clinical records showed a longitudinal diagnostic adjustment (i.e. addition of a subsequent diagnosis of a different diagnostic class, at > 30 days’ distance from their first diagnosis). Regression analyses investigated typical diagnostic sequences and their relationships with socio-demographic variables, service use and standardised measures of mental health. Analysis found that 19.3% of CAMHS attendees had undergone a longitudinal diagnostic adjustment. Ethnicity, diagnostic class and symptom profiles significantly influenced the likelihood of a diagnostic adjustment. Affective and anxiety/stress-related disorders longitudinally predicted each other, as did hyperkinetic and conduct disorders, and hyperkinetic and pervasive developmental disorders. Results suggest that approximately one in five young service users have their original psychiatric diagnosis revised or supplemented during their time in CAMHS. By revealing the most common diagnostic sequences, this study enables policy makers to anticipate future service needs and clinicians to make informed projections about their patients’ likely trajectories. Further research is required to understand how young people experience diagnostic adjustments and their psychological and pragmatic implications.

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