Is Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire in a Community Sample the Optimal Way to Assess Mental Health Functioning?


An important characteristic of a screening tool is its discriminant ability or the measure’s accuracy to distinguish between those with and without mental health problems. The current study examined the inter-rater agreement and screening concordance of the parent and teacher versions of SDQ at scale, subscale and item-levels, with the view of identifying the items that have the most informant discrepancies; and determining whether the concordance between parent and teacher reports on some items has the potential to influence decision making. Cross-sectional data from parent and teacher reports of the mental health functioning of a community sample of 299 students with and without disabilities from 75 different primary schools in Perth, Western Australia were analysed. The study found that: a) Intraclass correlations between parent and teacher ratings of children’s mental health using the SDQ at person level was fair on individual child level; b) The SDQ only demonstrated clinical utility when there was agreement between teacher and parent reports using the possible or 90% dichotomisation system; and c) Three individual items had positive likelihood ratio scores indicating clinical utility. Of note was the finding that the negative likelihood ratio or likelihood of disregarding the absence of a condition when both parents and teachers rate the item as absent was not significant. Taken together, these findings suggest that the SDQ is not optimised for use in community samples and that further psychometric evaluation of the SDQ in this context is clearly warranted.