What Does a Child Psychiatrist Do?

You may have noticed that there has been an increase in conversations around children’s mental health, especially since COVID-19 and the lockdowns. The true impact of this on young people’s mental health is still somewhat unknown. However, NHS figures show that the number of referrals for children needing help for serious mental health issues increased by 39% in a year in 2021/22.

It may surprise you to realise just how common it is for children to have emotional and/or behavioural issues. In 2022, 18.0% of children aged 7 to 16 years had a probable mental health disorder, from depression and anxiety, to eating disorders.

When families have concerns about the emotional well-being or behaviour of their children, they will usually be referred to a Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) team. This is also referred to as Children & Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS). This is made up of a multidisciplinary team of psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and therapists who all specialise in children and adolescent mental health.

What does a CAMHS psychiatrist do?

A CAMHS psychiatrist specialises in providing direct support to children and young people up to the age of 18. They have a sympathetic approach and are able to identify any issues, diagnose, understand the root cause, and then provide appropriate treatment to help improve the quality of life of both the child and their family.

CAMHS psychiatrists have a minimum of six years of specialty training in children and adolescent mental health. They work as part of a wider team that includes nurses, psychologists, and more. Unlike child psychologists, psychiatrists can prescribe medication if required.

They will look to build up an idea of what has been happening, and how long it’s been going on for. A CAMHS psychiatrist will look at:

  • Detailed family history
  • Detailed medical history (including any current medications)
  • What’s going on at school and school performance
  • Relationships with family at home
  • Relationships with friends and others outside of the home

Together, the CAMHS team will speak to family, friends, teachers, and others at school to build up a detailed picture. Once they have all the relevant information, they can begin to understand the root cause of any issues and provide a diagnosis.

There are two routes for accessing help: via your GP, who will refer you to the NHS CAMHS team, or privately. You may find more choice and shorter waiting times if you are looking for a private child psychiatrist in London.

It’s not just children who are impacted by their mental health disorders – it’s their entire support system, including parents. A child psychiatrist will be able to provide support for you too.

Although it varies between individuals and the underlying cause, the treatment might involve some of the following:

  • 1-2-1 appointments with the child
  • Providing advice for teachers
  • Providing advice for family members
  • Medication (if required)
  • Talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Training and advice for parents (how to respond to negative behaviour and reward good behaviour)

When should a child visit a psychiatrist?

If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health – whether that’s emotional or behavioural – it’s really important to seek help right away as issues in childhood can impact development. 

Mental health disorders in children will often arise as a response to an experience or trauma. Some of the more common triggers include bullying, illness, parents separating, and bereavement. 

The first – and most important – step is recognising that something could be wrong. These are some common behaviours that may indicate an underlying disorder:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sudden changes in behaviour
  • Unpredictable tantrums and outbursts
  • Hostility
  • Persistent sadness (for two or more weeks)
  • Avoidance, fear or anxiety in relation to ‘normal’ activities
  • Persistent worrying
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Severe changes in their eating habits
  • Sudden changes in performance at school
  • Behaviour that seems out of control
  • Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
  • Trying to harm themselves

Common mental health disorders in children

Some examples of underlying conditions include:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and neurodivergence
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Attachment disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Self-harming behaviour

Getting help for your child

It can be difficult to determine if a child’s behaviour is ‘normal’ or something to worry about. If you have noticed any of the signs above, or have concerns about your child’s mental health, please do contact your GP or a specialist in children’s mental health for support and advice.

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