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Psychiatry facts for kids

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Quick facts for kids
Names Physician
Activity sectors
Education required
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD) or
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) or
  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS/MBChB)
  • Clinical officer
  • Plus a qualification in Psychiatry
Related jobs

Psychiatry is a part of medicine that studies, diagnoses and treats mental illnesses and abnormal behaviours and conditions that cause problems and make life difficult for people. The people who practice psychiatry and treat others who have psychiatric problems are called psychiatrists.

Prescribing psychiatric medication

Psychiatrists are medically qualified doctors. They can legally prescribe medications to their patients to help emotional and behavioral problems. This does not apply to psychologists, who are not qualified to prescribe medicines.

Psychiatrists learn about how the body and the brain work. Psychiatrists must learn about all kinds of illnesses. Sometimes a disease in the body causes the brain to work poorly. Cancer in the pancreas causes depression. Blood sugar problems in diabetes mellitus can cause a bad temper. These are only two examples.

As doctors, psychiatrists learn about how medications can help the brain work better. They also learn how medications sometimes cause problems to the brain. Sometimes psychologists send their patients to a psychiatrist if the patient seems to have a problem that medicine might help. The patient should continue to see the psychologist.

In the 1950's, the first medicine to help patients with bipolar disorder (formally known as manic-depressive illness) was discovered. This was lithium, a type of metal in a powder form. A bit later, the first medicine for psychosis was discovered. Later, medicines to calm people (tranquilizers), to end depression (anti-depressants), to help feelings remain the same each day (mood stabilizers) were discovered.

Medicine for mental illness does not cure. Some of the medicines try to get brain chemicals to be the amounts they are in normal people. Other medicines "slow down how fast the brain works" so people with rapid thoughts can be in control of what they think and how they behave. When the medicines are stopped, symptoms often come back.


The best known psychiatrist is Sigmund Freud, a medical doctor who was trained in neurology. He became certain that hidden thoughts in the brain (which he called the unconscious) could cause physical symptoms and strange behavior in some people. He believed that human behavior was not all caused by the brain, but by things that happened to people when they were babies and young children. His research of this theory – the idea he had – led him to create "talking therapy" – psychoanalysis – where he tried to figure out what could cause the mind to do things like this.

He thought that his figuring things out and telling the patients what had caused the behavior would cure the patient. Unfortunately, it usually made no lasting changes. This is why psychiatrists (and psychologists) have gradually figured out many other ways of helping their patients.


Since the medications for mental illness were first discovered, there have been tools to understand why the mentally ill behave and think in ways that make it not easy for them to live. Doctors do this by studying the brain as directly as they can.

This field of medicine is called neuropsychiatry. The medical doctors who work in the field are called neuropsychiatrists. They hope someday to really permanently cure or fix mental illness by finding ways to change the brain forever. In the meantime, they try to find ways to help by finding better medications.

The science of psychology is studies the way people behave and change. Psychologists apply this what is found to make new ways of helping people change how they behave. Talking therapy and applied psychology were the first important ways of helping people with some problems of regular life. Some kinds of mental illness can be helped some this way, but some kinds cannot be helped. They need medicines instead, then sometimes a psychologist can help the patient a great deal.


Controversy has often surrounded psychiatry, and the term anti-psychiatry was coined by psychiatrist David Cooper in 1967. The anti-psychiatry message is that psychiatric treatments may be more damaging than helpful to patients. Psychiatry's history involves what may now be seen as dangerous treatments (e.g., electroconvulsive therapy, lobotomy). Two charismatic psychiatrists who came to personify the movement against psychiatry were R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz. Some ex-patient groups have become very anti-psychiatric, often referring to themselves as "survivors".

Discredited psychiatrists who operated outside the norms of medical ethics include Harry Bailey, Donald Ewen Cameron, Samuel A. Cartwright, Henry Cotton, and Andrei Snezhnevsky.

Fields of psychiatry

  • Forensic psychiatry – the study of criminals and criminal behavior.
  • Addiction psychiatry – study and treatment of chemical addictions.
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry – study and treatment of children and teens
  • Geriatric psychiatry – study and treatment of the aged
  • Psychopharmacology

Common psychiatric conditions

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Psiquiatría para niños

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