This study determined the impact of impairment criteria on the prevalence and patterns of comorbidity of child DSM-IV disorders. The validity of these impairment criteria was tested against different measures of mental health care referral and utilization. We interviewed parents of 1,154 children aged 5–8 years in-depth using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to establish DSM-IV diagnosis. These children were randomly selected or oversampled based on Child Behavior Checklist ratings from a large population-based study (N = 6,172). Referral data were extracted from the psychiatric interview as well as from a follow-up questionnaire. The results showed an overall prevalence of DSM-IV disorders of 31.1 % when impairment was not considered. This rate declined to 22.9 % when mild impairment was required and declined even further, to 10.3 %, for more severe levels of impairment. Similarly, the overall comorbidity rate declined from 8.5 to 6.7 and 2.7 % when mild and severe impairment were required, respectively. Virtually all children who attained symptom thresholds for a specific disorder, and had been referred to a mental health care professional because of the associated symptoms, also had mild impairment. The requirement of severe impairment criteria significantly increased diagnostic thresholds, but for most disorders, this definition captured only half of the clinically referred cases. In conclusion, prevalence was highly dependent upon the criteria used to define impairment. If severe impairment is made a diagnostic requirement, many children with psychiatric symptoms and mild impairment seeking mental health care will be undiagnosed and possibly untreated.

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Keywords Child psychiatric disorders, Comorbidity, Impairment, Prevalence, Referral for treatment
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Journal European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Rijlaarsdam, J, Stevens, G, van der Ende, J, Hofman, A, Jaddoe, V.W.V, Verhulst, F.C, & Tiemeier, H.W. (2015). Prevalence of DSM-IV disorders in a population-based sample of 5- to 8-year-old children: the impact of impairment criteria. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 24(11), 1339–1348. doi:10.1007/s00787-015-0684-6