When to see a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
Updated: Mar 31
Australia’s youth are facing a crisis, and they need our help as care providers and advocates.
The percentage of youth in Australia who say mental health is an issue of national importance grew from 21% to 43% between 2015 and 2018. Forty-three percent of kids say coping with stress is their top personal concern.
At the same time, as many as half of all children and adolescents in Australia receive inadequate (or no) treatment, despite meeting the criteria for mental health disorders. Kids with complex conditions have an even higher risk of inadequate care.
There are many reasons our children aren’t getting the mental healthcare they need. Often, those reasons tend to be structural and aren’t reflective of the kind of care possible for young people. Even still, if you recognise behaviours in your child that trouble you, there is something you can do to advocate for your child’s care.
And that is to bring your child to see a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist.
Finding Help for Your Child: The First Steps
Is your child struggling or experiencing emotional distress?
When it comes to a child's health, while there may be a number of professionals may be available, but there is one often overlooked professional - the Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist.
A Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist (also knowns Paediatric Psychiatrist) is a medical specialist with at least five years (often longer) of further accredited rigorous specialist training under the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) in public hospitals where they deal with complex and acute cases of mental health.
To become a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, a candidate has to complete at least two years of specialised training under the RANZCP in mental health work with children, adolescents, and their families generally in public hospitals.
Their expertise allows them to use multiple treatment approaches - diagnostic studies, prescription medications, and several types of psychotherapy (talk-therapy) interventions.
When Should You See a Child Psychiatrist?
Diagnosing mental illness in children is tricky for all health professionals for several reasons. First, children may not have the vocabulary or the emotional maturity to express their feelings as they experience them. Additionally, development varies significantly between individual children, which means there’s no true timeline to follow. Finally, mental illness presents differently in children than in adults.
Importance of Early intervention
It is important for the psychiatrist to be directly involved in the initial assessment and management of any children displaying common signs of mental health issues. However, it becomes even more crucial among children and young people presenting with complex, severe symptoms and who face increased risk to themselves and others.
In cases where the underlying cause of problem behaviours is illness, a misdiagnosis or no diagnosis is devastating for children. Attempting other treatment options without rigorous assessment and diagnostics means you are all working to manage symptoms without acknowledging the existence of the underlying cause.
What’s worse, data shows that waiting too long is harmful for both kids and their families. As they wait for help, their ability to emotionally or cognitively function declines. The decline may cause you to lose hope that anything can change, and you both may be resistant to try care again in the future.
Although your child benefits from the work of a healthcare team (including a psychologist, paediatrician, speech therapist, etc.), both your child and the team benefit when a child psychiatrist oversees all aspects of mental health treatment. Doing so offers a clear path forward and allows all members of the team to adjust the treatment plan as one rather than as individuals.
Australia’s children are asking for help with their mental help, and we can give them the care they deserve.