Many times, the first question a parent has about their child’s mental health is whether there is even an actual problem. As a parent, how do you know?
Some parents have the luxury of being able to compare their child to other children in the family. While not every child is the same, for the most part, children do progress along the same basic developmental path.
If there are no other kids in the family, getting your child enrolled in daycare, preschool, or any activity that gets them around other kids their age will help you start to make a rough comparison for differences. If it turns out your child is similar to the other kids, your efforts will not have been in vain — not to mention, prosocial activities are great for any child’s development.
What if you think your child has a mental health issue?
If it does seem like your child is different, or you still just really aren’t sure, you can always seek an initial evaluation from a healthcare professional.
Pediatricians can be a great first step. However, all physicians (M.D.’s and D.O.’s) have basic mental health education as part of their training. They should be able to provide routine screening for straightforward mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.
Some physicians are even comfortable in trying the first steps of treatment if your child has severe enough symptoms. If they feel mental health is “beyond their scope,” which is the clinical way of saying “I think you need a specialist,” they should be able to refer your child to a specialized mental health provider.
How to select a mental health provider for your child
This is where things can get confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating given the wide spectrum of mental health providers and the quality of care they’re able to provide.
There are also confusing and misleading terms/titles for you to be aware of. The first distinction to understand are the terms “non-prescriber” versus “prescribers.”
Non-prescribers vs. prescribers
- Non-prescribers – These are the providers generally known as therapists, counselors, and psychologists. They typically have degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD). There are a few other degrees out there, but those are the most common. These are the providers trained in what I call “talk-based” therapy, as opposed to pharmacotherapy (“medications”). When you think your child might have a mental health issue, these providers are a great place to get an initial evaluation. Any licensed mental health provider can do an initial assessment, make treatment recommendations and even refer to a “prescriber” if it seems indicated.
- Prescribers – By this point you may have assumed “prescriber” means physician. Not necessarily. “Prescriber” is used to indicate that a provider can write prescriptions. I personally dislike this term as it sets up the assumption that “prescribers should be prescribing medications.” This is not always the case. When it comes to children’s mental health, the default question in a “prescribers” mind should be, “what should we be doing to get this child off medications?” Sometimes medications are clinically indicated and can be essential in a child’s care, but there should be a plan to eventually get them off medications if possible.
So, now you might be asking, what kinds of providers are prescribers if they’re not all physicians?
Prescribers can include a range of provider types, including:
- special nurses called Advanced Practicing Registered Nurse (APRN);
- physicians with medical doctorates (MD); and
- doctorates of osteopathy (DO).
It’s worth noting that some APRNs can have doctorates in specialties other than medicine. Also, APRNs sometimes go by the title of “doctor,” but that’s not the same thing as being a physician.
Board Certified Psychiatrists
Physicians who specialize in mental health are known as Psychiatrists. Another helpful distinction you should be aware of is something called “Board Certification.”
Board certification is when a physician gets training beyond regular medical school for a particular field. There are several board certifications for mental health:
- General Psychiatry,
- Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
- Addiction Psychiatry,
- Geriatric Psychiatry,
- Forensic Psychiatry, and
- Psychosomatic Psychiatry.
Feeling confused? Don’t be! The best thing to do is to simply ask the provider you are seeing what their credentials are and what kind of training they have. Make sure their training and experience aligns with your and your child’s needs.
How to find a qualified mental health provider near you
Okay, now that we have a basic understanding of the provider types available, how do you go about finding a good one near you?
PsychologyToday.com is a helpful resource for finding therapists, treatment centers, psychiatrists, and support groups. You can also search by zip code and several other filters such as insurance, diagnosis, types of therapy, etc.
Finding a psychiatrist can be more challenging than finding a therapist since there is a national shortage (and more severe shortages in certain states and cities, such as here in Nevada and Las Vegas).
If you have insurance, you can also ask your carrier for a list of providers in your network. They should be able to give you a list of all mental health providers (prescribers and non-prescribers). For providers not in your insurance network or who don’t take insurance, an internet search is a good way to find your closest providers.
If you are uninsured, many states and counties have clinics eligible people can access for free.
I hope this article helps you and your child find the mental health professional you need!
About the author:
This Healthy Minds article was written by Timothy Jeider, MD, Board Certified General Psychiatrist.
Timothy Jeider, MD is a board certified general psychiatrist with specialized training in child and adolescent psychiatry. Dr. Jeider graduated from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda California, and then went on to General Psychiatry Residency at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. From there, he relocated to Las Vegas, where he completed his Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at UNLV. During his time at UNLV, he served as the Fellowship’s Chief Fellow. Since completing his training, he has been serving the Las Vegas community in an number of roles. His direct patient care roles include caring for pediatric populations at an acute inpatient care facility, a partial hospitalization program, and intensive outpatient care program. Additionally, he cares for pediatric and adult patients in general outpatient psychiatric clinic. His volunteer hours are spent as a member of the Clark County Children’s Mental Health Consortium.