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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders among children, yet there is limited guidance on the process of assessing child anxiety disorders and sharing diagnostic outcomes with families.

Anxious child and mother hugging

The authors of a new qualitative study, ‘It opened my eyes’: Parents’ experiences of their child receiving an anxiety disorder diagnosis, published in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, hope to inform clinical guidance on using child anxiety disorder diagnoses.

Researchers from the University of Oxford conducted in-depth interviews with 11 parents of children (aged 7-12) who had received an anxiety disorder diagnosis in order to find out more about their experiences of the diagnostic process. 

The findings indicate that the process of receiving an anxiety disorder diagnosis can be a very helpful and positive experience for families. Parents identified the most important aspect of receiving a diagnosis was that it helped their child access professional support for their anxiety difficulties. Parents also said that receiving clear information about their child’s diagnosis and an explanation for their child’s behaviour helped them to feel more in control of the situation and better able to support their child.

However, parents also expressed some concerns about their child’s future and the negative consequences associated with the diagnostic ‘label’. For example, some parents were worried that their child would continue to experience anxiety problems into adulthood, or were concerned that other people would treat their child differently as a result of their diagnosis.

Parents’ experiences clearly show that effective communication between clinicians and families is critical. In particular, findings highlight that when sharing child anxiety disorder diagnoses with families, clinicians should:

  • Communicate the diagnoses sensitively and in the context of offering treatment
  • Share personalised information that relates to the child’s own particular difficulties
  • Provide psychoeducation about anxiety disorders and effective treatment
  • Express optimism about the child’s future

 

Dr Tessa Reardon, TOPIC Research Group, Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, said:

 

'There is often debate about whether mental health diagnoses should be used or not, particularly with children and young people.  Our findings show how assessing and sharing anxiety diagnoses with families can be helpful and importantly highlight ways clinicians can help ensure it is a positive experience for families. We spoke only to mothers from one child mental health service in the UK. It would be helpful now to explore the views and experiences of fathers and other caregivers, and families from different ethnic backgrounds and geographical regions, to see whether our findings are reflected in other populations and settings.'

Read the full study.

For more information about the Oxford Psychological Interventions for Children and adolescents (TOPIC) Research Group.

 

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