Dr. Barnum releases paper on Conversion Disorder

Abstract: Conversion Disorder (CD) is a diagnosis offered to explain signs and symptoms that do not correspond to recognized medical conditions. Pediatric patients with variable, vague, and multisystem complaints are at increased risk for being diagnosed with CD. Little is known about the impact of such a diagnosis. In making such diagnoses, it is likely that pediatric providers hope to encourage patients to access mental health care, but no basis exists to show that these diagnoses result in such access in any useful way. This article presents the case of a child with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, who had been previously (incorrectly) diagnosed with CD and referred for mental health care. It offers commentary based on interviews with other pediatric patients with similar experiences – conducted in collaboration with the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation. These cases indicate that CD diagnoses can seriously undermine patients’ trust in doctors, and can create such defensiveness that it may interfere with (especially) patients’ abilities to engage with mental health services. Such interference is an important problem, if the diagnosis is accurate. But, in the (more likely) event that it is not accurate, this defensiveness can interfere with both important mental health care and further ongoing necessary medical care.