A Diagnosis of Denial: How Mental Health Classification Systems Have Struggled to Recognise Family Violence as a Serious Risk Factor in the Development of Mental Health Issues for Infants, Children, Adolescents and Adults Academic Article uri icon


  • Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) routinely overlook assessing for, and providing treatment to, infants and children living with family violence, despite family violence being declared endemic across the globe. As contemporary neuro-developmental research recognises the harm of being exposed to early relational trauma, key international diagnostic texts such as the DSM-5 and ICD-10 struggle to acknowledge or appreciate the relational complexities inherent in addressing family violence and its impacts during childhood. These key texts directly influence thinking, funding and research imperatives in adult services as well as CAMHS, however, they rarely reference family violence. Their emphasis is to pathologise conditions over exploring causality which may be attributable to relational violence. Consequently, CAMHS can miss important indicators of family violence, misdiagnose disorders and unwittingly, not address unacceptable risks in the child's caregiving environment. Notwithstanding urgent safety concerns, ongoing exposure to family violence significantly heightens the development of mental illness amongst children. CAMHS providers cannot and should not rely on current diagnostic manuals alone. They need to act now to see family violence as a significant and important risk factor to mental health and to treat its impacts on children before these develop into enduring neurological difficulties.

publication date

  • 2017