Ask the Doctor: How Can Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Help My Loved One?
In the following interview, Matthew Wittry, DO, of Bryan Heartland Psychiatry, part of the Bryan Physician Network, answers common questions.
Q: Please describe the role of a child and adolescent psychiatrist. In what age range are your patients?
Dr. Matthew Wittry
To me, this line of medicine is all about helping children and families reach their fullest potential in life. The role of a child and adolescent psychiatrist is to diagnose and treat mental illness and emotional problems. Common issues treated are of thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors. Typically we treat school-aged children, but we occasionally see younger patients.
Q: How do symptoms and treatments for young patients differ from adults?
One of the great benefits of working with young people is that we have a great window of opportunity to change the trajectory of their lives. Sometimes people can see children and adolescents as little adults, but in reality their brains are still developing. Therefore, symptoms and treatments are unique to both the age and the child.
Q: What do you look for when identifying issues for young people?
We were all young once, and we know that growing up is not easy. When working with young people, it’s important to differentiate between typical and atypical. When a child is having problems that are negatively impacting themselves and their families, it is a good sign that professional help is warranted.
Q: What conditions do you diagnose and treat?
We treat the full spectrum of psychiatric issues that can help young people. Often an issue in one area of life can spill over into other areas, so there should be a holistic approach. For example, depression can present as irritability. That irritability can impact a child’s ability to make friends at school or to get along well with family, which, in turn, leads to further issues. The important thing here is to know that depression is treatable with professional help and it may help to improve many areas of life for the young person.
Q: What other types of doctors do you often work with?
This is another example where care is specific to the young person, but generally speaking, we work with primary care physicians or pediatricians. We also see referrals from schools, counselors, therapists or from parents directly. Personally, I tend to find myself working more with other physicians when we are working in an inpatient setting versus an outpatient setting.
Q: How does the role of a psychiatrist differ from a psychologist?
This is a great question because it can be confusing at face value; however, there are important differences when seeking care and treatment. In a nutshell, a psychiatrist has earned a medical degree while a psychologist attends graduate school to earn a doctorate of philosophy or psychology. When treatment requires both medication management and psychotherapy, you will need to see a psychiatrist instead of or in addition to a psychologist.
Q: What interested you in this field of medicine?
The greatest hope we have for a better tomorrow is in improving lives of children today. I always enjoyed science and people. In my third year of medical school, my psychiatry rotation happened to be in child and adolescence psychiatry. The doctor with whom I worked became a mentor, and every day I could see how deeply life-changing the combination of resources, education and treatment is in healing lives and families. Truly, treating young people is a privilege.
Q: What are you seeing in our daily lives that you want to help?
While as a society, we are becoming more educated and more aware of mental illness and its prevalence, we are largely still pushing those boulders up the hill. The challenge with mental illness is that it isn’t always as obvious as a blood test or a cast on a broken arm. People can be struggling deeply with mental illness and others around them may not even be aware. We also have a tendency to tell people to just “tough it out” when the going gets rough, but with mental illness, professional help is needed, and it can be difficult for the person struggling to ask for help. If we can continue to educate and spread awareness, we can release the stigma and help society move in a positive direction.
Q: Why did you choose to practice with Bryan Health?
Bryan Health is amazing at providing the full spectrum of care from outpatient services, which include evaluations, therapies and medical management, to partial hospitalization, inpatient psychiatric units and integration with community initiatives, including support service for the individuals and families. Caring for people in this all-inclusive, universal approach leads to some of the best possible outcomes. It’s an honor to be part of a professional community that cares about and is working to help people be their healthiest and live their greatest lives.
Q: What energizes you?
Because Bryan has so many tailored areas of care, I have the unique opportunity to stay up to speed on best practices and build my network for the betterment of my patients and the community.
Q: What’s next in psychiatry?
We are living in an incredible time with medicine advancing at near light speed. Psychiatry is changing every day, too, as we see more integrated care and have better access to information and technology than ever before. Additionally, we are becoming more aware of how important mental health is to overall wellness and a high quality of life. Most likely, psychiatry will continue to become more prominent in health care, which will lead to greater outcomes for children, individuals, families, the workforce and society as a whole. There are great things ahead when we embrace advancement, education and treatment.