There is concern that diagnostic labels for psychiatric disorders may invoke damaging stigma, especially for children. This study compared parents’ stigma toward children with the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression versus the same symptoms plus a psychiatric label.
Parents (N=225) rated their stereotypes, prejudice, and social distance toward vignettes of children with a developmentally typical range of behaviors, symptoms that met DSM-IV-TR criteria for ADHD or depression, and the same symptoms plus a label of ADHD or depression.
Children described as having symptoms only were more stigmatized than children with typical behaviors (d=.97–2.69). Adding a diagnostic label resulted in significant but small increases in stigma (d=.12–.23).
Parents highly stigmatized children with psychiatric problems, but adding a diagnostic label made only a small contribution to worsening the stigma. The benefits of seeking psychiatric services—accessing treatment and providing validation—may outweigh fears of labeling.