Study: Why Attention Deficit Disorder Is Over-Diagnosed

More

Researchers in Germany find that mental health practitioners tend to diagnose ADHD using their intuition and unclear rules of thumb, not recognized diagnostic criteria.

Study of the Day
Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

PROBLEM: The rates of ADHD diagnosis in the developed world have become almost inflationary, increasing annually by an average of three percent from 1997 to 2006 and 5.5 percent from 2003 to 2007 in the U.S. But how accurate are these diagnoses?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by University of Basel's Katrin Bruchmueller surveyed 1,000 child and adolescent psychotherapists and psychiatrists across Germany, 473 of whom participated in the study. They received one of four case vignettes, and were asked to give a diagnosis and a recommendation for therapy. In three out of the four cases, the described symptoms and circumstances did not fulfill ADHD diagnostic criteria. The gender of the child was included as a variable as well, resulting in eight cases.

RESULTS: Many mental health practitioners seem to proceed heuristically and base their decisions on unclear rules of thumb. The respondents more readily diagnosed ADHD when the case involved a male patient and presented prototypical symptoms, such as impulsiveness, motoric restlessness, and lack of concentration. They were, for instance, twice more likely to conclude ADHD with the boy version of the vignettes than with the girl vignettes. Interestingly, even the therapist's gender played a role in the diagnostic as male doctors diagnosed ADHD more frequently than their female counterparts.

CONCLUSION: ADHD is over-diagnosed because doctors rely too much on their intuition and not on defined, established diagnostic criteria.

SOURCE: The full study, "Is ADHD Diagnosed in Accord With Diagnostic Criteria? Overdiagnosis and Influence of Client Gender on Diagnosis," is published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In