Background: Children with chronic illness have increased rates of mental health problems and psychological difficulties often present as physical conditions. This prevalence survey aims to determine whether children attending general paediatric out-patient clinics are at increased risk of suffering from emotional and behavioural disturbance and whether there is an unmet need for psychiatric liaison to paediatric clinics.
Methods: Participants were 307 children aged 5-15 years attending a representative sample of paediatric out-patient clinics in one UK hospital. A national community sample of 10,438 children aged 5-15 years was used as a comparison group. Parental ratings of child behaviour were obtained using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Doctors rated the extent of any emotional difficulties using a modification of the SDQ 'impact supplement'.
Results: Children attending paediatric out-patient clinics were more than twice as likely (OR = 2.3, 95% CI 1.7-3.1) to score in the abnormal range of the SDQ. Of the 60 (20%) children with a probable psychiatric disorder only 15 had received specialist help from Child Mental Health Services. There were no gender differences in the profile of difficulties with emotional symptoms being particularly evident in both boys (OR = 2.85, 95% CI 1.97-4.11) and girls (OR = 3.04, 95% CI 1.92-4.70). The risk of psychiatric disorder was highest among those children with brain disorders attending neurological clinics (OR = 5.8, 95% CI 2.5-11.3). Clinicians only identified emotional or behaviour problems in a quarter of those children with parent-rated disorder.
Conclusion: There is an increased prevalence of emotional and behavioural disturbance in children attending paediatric out-patient clinics. The SDQ could be added to routine paediatric assessments to aid appropriate referral of children with a possible psychiatric disorder to child mental health services.