Pros And Cons Of Labeling Children With Psychiatric Disorders

In the past, children who didn’t do well in school were called “lazy,” “dumb,” or “difficult.” Today, psychiatry has helped identify subtle symptoms of disorders that might hamper their learning capabilities, hence shifting the blame away from the behavior of the children.

However, with each new psychiatric disorder being discovered, children might experience certain difficulties when they are labeled with specific disorders. Hence, it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons of labeling children, especially if your little one has been having learning or behavior problems.


Pros Of Psychiatric Labeling

Early diagnosis of psychiatric disorders is vital to understanding the hindrances to your child’s growth and development.1 But, there are other pros of both diagnosing and subsequent labeling of children with psychiatric disorders. Here are a few of them.

1. Drives Schools To Provide Assistance

Labels drive teachers to make adjustments.


Most school policies today are increasingly focused on improved test scores and higher graduation rates. Hence, they might be driven to offer extra assistance and testing accommodations to children who face certain challenges at school.

This is especially important for children with psychiatric disorders since they might find themselves feeling lost and insecure amongst children who don’t face the same challenges as they do. Be sure to talk to the school you’ve enrolled your child into regarding any accommodations that you’d like for them to make.


2. Offers Direction For Treatment

Labels incentivize treatment efforts

For researchers, practitioners, training programs, and insurance companies, labels simplify communication and help focus on the details and available data of a specific disorder. Increase in available data, in turn, leads to better access and availability of treatment resources for professionals.


Additionally, labels help parents acquire the right kind of knowledge regarding the condition which then helps them handle difficult situations more effectively. It can also help them see their children as “different” and not just “bizarre” or “brats.”

3. Boosts Children’s Self-Esteem

Labeling prevents self-blame in children.


Often, children feel alienated due to the problems their condition poses. And, with adults around them attributing laziness and stupidity to their personalities, they might even blame themselves for not being able to keep up with other children.

Labels can help them identify the specific problem and reattribute their difficulties to the diagnosis. This, hence, helps boost their self-esteem.


Although these benefits of labels can’t be overlooked, it’s important to exercise caution and care once your child has been diagnosed, so as to avoid slowing down the progress your child.2

Cons Of Psychiatric Labeling

1. Focuses Only On The Diagnosis

Labels ignore individual needs.


Often, a diagnostic label might get people to focus on the specific problem of a child and overlook any positive personal characteristics of his. And, this leads to parents and teachers attending to children only when they show signs of a disorder and ignoring them when they are alright.

This focus on the diagnosis and not the individual deprives the child of the attention and care that he needs while growing up. It might also prompt others to identify the child as the diagnosis and not an individual, hence hampering the child’s social interactions.

Additionally, it might limit his capability to grow in other areas. For instance, teachers who are aware of a child’s challenges might expect less of him, hence giving him lesser attention, and causing the child to not perform well in school. This, in turn, further reinforces the diagnosis and hampers growth.3

2. Increases The Risk Of Misdiagnosis

Labels lack a focused approach to diagnosis.

Often, the nature of psychological disorders, such as degrees of severity, causes, chronicity, and duration, are ignored. Instead, a checklist with a range of symptoms is used to diagnose a disorder.

However, this could lead to a misdiagnosis since certain external conditions such as lack of proper sleep, bad education system, and difficulties at home could also contribute to learning difficulties and other psychiatric conditions. Additionally, most disorders that are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) focus on symptoms of older, fully developed individuals.

Children, meanwhile, have developing minds that need a more specific, focused approach. At the moment, only a few disorders are defined and explained in relation to a child’s behavior. And, the lack of a more uniform approach to diagnosing mental disorders can lead to misdiagnosis.4

3. Leads To Stigmatization

Labels lead to bullying and isolation.

Children who are labeled with specific disorders often experience a change in the reputation for the worse. Peers tend to form negative attitudes towards individuals with psychiatric disorders, hence subjecting them to name-calling, bullying, or isolation.

Labels are also difficult to get rid of, even once the child has overcome his challenges. This, in turn, can lower the child’s self-esteem. Hence, it’s important for schools to make necessary adjustments to prevent their pupils from facing exclusion and stigmatization.5

4. Relies On Harmful Medications

Psychiatric medications cause harmful side-effects.

Often, professionals prescribe medications as the first-line of treatment for any diagnosis. These medications can lead to certain side effects that might harm the child.

For instance, drugs that are used to treat ADHD might lead to insomnia, suppressed appetite, and slow growth. They might also lead to addiction. It’s important to have an honest discussion with the professional and opt for alternative treatment options when possible.6

Despite the cons of diagnostic labels, it’s important to seek professional help if your child’s facing unusual difficulties in school. Be sure to take the necessary precautions to avoid subjecting the child to social stigmatization and misdiagnosis.