Comprehensive approach to diagnosis benefits children, teens

Posted on 12/17/19 01:13:pm


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When children are admitted to Rogers, they often arrive with one or more diagnoses from previous providers. Dr. Peggy Scallon, medical director of our Focus Depression Recovery residential care for adolescents, explains the process of observing and diagnosing young patients. She also provides advice for parents struggling to identify when help is needed for their child.

Diagnosing children and adolescents

Dr. Scallon says that a diagnosis is only made after a comprehensive assessment of all factors, including what the child's treatment team has tried in the past, what has worked and not worked, and how the symptoms are currently presenting. "We observe the kids in our care so we have a sense of how they react in a highly structured setting during both challenging and relaxing times." Observing the patient in a variety of scenarios allows a more complete picture of their symptoms to emerge and leads to a more informed diagnosis.

After careful observation, the treatment team uses the DSM-5, a manual for assessment and diagnosis of mental health disorders. "There are specific therapies and medications for specific conditions. It's important to get the diagnosis right, because otherwise, our therapy will be off-course from the beginning," explains Dr. Scallon.

Difficult-to-diagnose teens

By nature, teens tend to be more emotional than other age groups and often experience more interpersonal conflict, feelings of being misunderstood, and loneliness. These overwhelming emotions are especially difficult for teens who do not have healthy ways to cope with negative events and feelings. That, in turn, may lead to self-harm, impulsive behaviors like running away, and even suicidal thoughts.

It can be difficult for parents to recognize the difference between "normal" teenage behavior and behavior that indicates a more serious problem. Dr. Scallon advises that the following should never be considered normal, and are a sign that professional help is needed:

  • Expressing suicidal thoughts or plans
  • Self-harming
  • Acting out in impulsive ways that endanger themselves or others, such as substance use or interacting with strangers in unsafe ways

Additionally, if a child is exhibiting refusal behaviors, such as refusing to attend school, not getting out of bed, or not taking care of their hygiene, it may be time to seek help. Dr. Scallon cautions that if at any point parents are unsure of what to do, or feel too overwhelmed trying to help their child, professional help may be the best next step.

Help at Rogers

If you're concerned about your child or teen's behavior, Rogers can help with treatment for OCD, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, trauma, substance abuse, and emotional dysregulation at locations across the country. Call 800-767-4411 to request a free, confidential screening or request one online.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.