What Is Pediatric Psychiatry?

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What Is Pediatric Psychiatry?

Pediatric Psychiatry

Pediatric psychiatry is a specialty focused on the biological, psychological, and social components of child and adolescent behavioral, emotional, developmental, and mental health disorders. 

Psychiatric disorders among children are common, though often underdiagnosed. The CDC estimates that one in six children between the ages of two and eight have a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. Behavioral problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression are among the most common mental health disorders among children and adolescents.

If your child is exhibiting signs of a mental health disorder, which could include the inability to regulate emotions, disruptions in age-appropriate thinking or behavior, persistent sadness, changes in sleeping or eating habits, or changes in school performance, it’s important to seek professional care as soon as possible.

A pediatric psychiatrist will work with children and their parents or guardians to provide an evaluation, diagnosis, intervention, and treatment plan.

How Pediatric Psychiatry Works

Pediatric psychiatry also called child and adolescent psychiatry, focuses on the biological, social, and psychological aspects of behavioral, mental, emotional, and developmental disorders in children and adolescents. 

To understand the mental health condition of a child or adolescent, a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation is often required. This can take several hours or multiple visits and often includes the following:

  • Overview of present problems, symptoms, and concerns
  • History of the family’s health and mental health 
  • Information about the child’s health, illness (physical and psychiatric), treatment plans, or medications
  • Information about the child’s development
  • Information about the child’s school habits, friends, and close family relationships
  • Interview with the parents or guardians
  • Laboratory exams, such as blood tests, x-rays, or special assessments

A pediatric psychiatrist may also request permission from the parents or guardians to contact the child’s teachers, family physician, relatives, or other relevant individuals, which can help inform their understanding of the child’s condition. From there, the psychiatrist will make a diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan. 

Common Psychiatric Conditions Among Children and Adolescents 

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and can impact any child in any family. However, a child’s socioeconomic status (SES), neighborhood stress level, and family structure, along with the prevalence of childhood adversities can contribute to or exacerbate a mental health condition.

Often, low-income, racial and ethnic minority children, as well as children in rural areas, face significant barriers to diagnosis, treatment, and care, which can put them at a higher risk for poorer health outcomes later in life.

The most common children and adolescent psychiatric conditions include:

  • ADHD
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Conduct disorder (CD)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Tourette syndrome 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

Though mental illness is common among children, it often goes undiagnosed. A recent study found that among 7.7 million children who have a treatable mental health disorder, only half have received treatment from a mental health professional.

Stigma, limited access to mental health care, treatment costs, and concerns over medication are just some of the factors preventing children from getting the proper care they need. 

Ongoing Need for Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists

Due to the rise in behavioral and mental health concerns among children and adolescents, there’s a growing need for pediatric psychiatrists. 

Pediatric psychiatrists are medical doctors, M.D. or D.O., who have completed three years of residency training and two years of specialized training in child and adolescent psychiatry. Their extensive training equips them with the licensing, certifications, and expertise needed to diagnose and treat pediatric psychiatric disorders.

In the United States, there are approximately 8,300 child and adolescent psychiatrists that are practicing, which is not enough to meet the growing demand. These psychiatrists are often concentrated in metropolitan areas, as well, making it difficult for rural communities to access these services. 

One study estimates that the average wait time to see a child psychiatrist is 7.5 weeks.

While telemental health care is rising across the country, this still won’t solve the ongoing problem, as there’s a significant shortage of mental health professionals, especially among specialty fields like pediatric psychiatry.

How to Find a Child or Adolescent Psychiatrist

Pediatric psychiatrists work in many different settings, including mental health practices, schools, social agencies, juvenile courts, and community organizations. Your child may be in a situation where psychiatric evaluation is required. 

To find a pediatric psychiatrist, you can utilize the following resources:

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

There are many reasons to see a pediatric psychiatrist. If a child is exhibiting signs of a mental health disorder, has recently experienced trauma, or is unable to function at school or at home, then intervention is recommended.

The wait time to see a pediatric psychiatrist may be long, but that shouldn’t deter you from seeking care. Child and adolescent therapists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers are widely available and easier to access. There are also free or low-cost services available to those on Medicaid or CHIP, those who are uninsured, or those living in poverty. No matter your circumstances, don’t let the barriers prevent you or your child from getting support.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and statistics on children’s mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021.

  2. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. 2021.

  3. Alegría M, Greif Green J, McLaughlin K, Loder S. Disparities in Child and Adolescent Health and Mental Health Services in the U.S. 2015. William T. Grant Foundation.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children’s mental disorders. March 2021.

  5. Whitney DG, Peterson MD. Us national and state-level prevalence of mental health disorders and disparities of mental health care use in childrenJAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(4):389.

  6. Patrick SW, Henkhaus LE, Zickafoose JS, et al. Well-being of parents and children during the covid-19 pandemic: a national surveyPediatrics. 2020;146(4):e2020016824.

  7. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Workforce issues. April 2019.

  8. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. What is child and adolescent psychiatry?.

  9. Pediatrics Nationwide. Beyond a bigger workforce: addressing the shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists – pediatrics nationwide. April 2020.

By Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women's issues, and more.