10% of children and young people have a diagnosable mental health issue, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Many of the most common mental health concerns are caused by several factors, and some disorders are confused with others. This can lead to mental health misdiagnoses.

Psychiatric misdiagnosis is common, and though most research regarding misdiagnosis is performed on adults, children are not immune.

Unfortunately, a correct diagnosis is essential to locating the root of the issue and providing the correct treatment and care. Learn more about mental health misdiagnoses in children here.

Why Does Misdiagnosis Occur?

Misdiagnosis in medical and clinical professions is common. An article by Anthony D. Smith, LMHC, in “Psychology Today” states that psychiatric disorders are misdiagnosed 40% of the time. Unfortunately, kids are not immune to these misdiagnoses.

Misdiagnosis is not a black-and-white issue. It is not always easy for clinical or medical professionals to make a diagnosis, as numerous factors come into play. Many symptoms cross over between mental health conditions.

Some patients also tend to mask their symptoms or withhold information that can help the professional make a correct diagnosis.

Co-occurring disorders are also common, meaning the individual may have two or more mental or physical health disorders at the same time.

It is essential that children and parents are honest with mental health professionals and that mental health professionals understand cultural differences, the commonality of dual diagnosis, and more. The goal is for the child to receive the treatment needed to live a healthier and happier life.

Commonly Misdiagnosed Disorders

Several mental health disorders are more commonly misdiagnosed in children and adolescents than others.

A few of the most prevalently misdiagnosed include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most prevalent diagnosis among kids and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 17. The diagnosis is often made due to hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention.

However, these symptoms are common in other disorders or may even be normal age-appropriate behavior.

The misdiagnosis for ADHD may be due to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a learning disorder, or something as simple as lack of sleep or hunger.

Several other disorders and lifestyle factors can lead to a misdiagnosis for ADHD, so it’s essential mental health professionals perform due diligence in learning all aspects of the child’s life.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is another commonly misdiagnosed disorder. This mental health concern, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by dramatic changes in activity level, mood, and energy.

However, studies show that the commonality of bipolar spectrum disorders is between 0% and 3% among adolescents.

The ups and downs that trigger a bipolar disorder diagnosis may also be due to post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, major depressive disorder, or borderline personality disorder.


Just over 1% of children have autism. That makes the diagnosis a lot rarer than many people think. Autism is often characterized by repetitive behavior, restricted speech, and challenges with social interaction and communication skills.

However, the causes of these symptoms could also be age-related or due to selective mutism, a speech impediment, or OCD.

Children who are correctly diagnosed have a variety of treatment options available, including online autism treatment from home.

Parents must seek a qualified professional concerning a child’s mental health diagnosis, as a child misdiagnosed with autism may grow up believing he or she has a mental health disorder that isn’t valid.

Find Out More

Other common misdiagnoses in children include post-traumatic stress disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and depression.

An inaccurate mental health diagnosis for a child can lead to confusion, stress, and taking potentially dangerous medications. The child’s condition may also worsen while undergoing incorrect treatment, leading to more severe dysfunction.

Find out more about mental health misdiagnoses among children in the accompanying infographic.

Author bio: Suzy Christopher, LCSW, is the Director and a co-founder of MySpectrum Counseling & Coaching. She has been serving in clinical social work and leadership roles since 2002.

Infographic provided by MySpectrum, substance abuse counseling

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