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A Journal on Pediatrics, Neonatology, Adolescent Medicine,
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

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Minerva Pediatrica 2002 June;54(3):249-58


language: English, Italian

The child’s awareness of the concept of mental disease. A case study

Donfrancesco R., Caterino E., Mugnaini D., Berio G.


In international literature not many papers discuss the comprehension of the mental disease concept by children and their ability to understand its behavioral and ethical consequences. A knowledge of this domain could be very important for health professionals and practitioners who have to cope with children abused by adult relatives with psychiatric illnesses. The case study of an 8 year-old girl describes a brief child training, projected to facilitate the recovery of the child mother relationship, through the child's comprehension of the concept of mental disease. The girl was initially assessed in a child psychiatric clinic after a period of hospitalization caused by a severe physical aggression committed by the mother during an acute schizophrenic episode (an attempt of homicide and suicide). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other psychopathologies were absent in the child. The training project included: 1) the achievement of a confidential relationship between the girl and the doctor, 2) the child's comprehension of the general concept of illness, 3) the child's comprehension of the concept of mental illness and the absence of responsibility relative to the bizarre and aggressive behavior of the psychiatric patient. After 2 months of child training, the girl showed a partial but sufficient comprehension of the concept of mental illness. Hence, the girl successfully restored her relationship with the mother, without developing any psychopathological effects. This result was confirmed after one year.

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