Virginia Data Highlights Severe Shortage of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists

RICHMOND, Va. — Elizabeth Callahan, a teacher and mother to a child with autism, is well acquainted with deficiencies in the mental health care system in Virginia.

“I see the persistent issues with it, and there are just so many gaps,” Callahan stated.

Callahan explained that her son was diagnosed by a developmental pediatrician as soon as his symptoms, which included speech problems, became apparent. He received occupational therapy for several years until in-person visits were halted due to COVID-19.

During the pandemic, her child’s therapist decided to quit because she claimed she would make more money on unemployment, according to Callahan.

Callahan also observes her students struggling to see psychiatrists for diagnoses. Schools provide some resources for students, but they cannot offer an official diagnosis.

“I just see families waiting for an eternity to get appointments,” Callahan said. “It can take months.”

Data from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) reveals that there is a significant shortage of practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists, also known as CAPs, in the United States. CAPs specialize in diagnosing and treating mental and behavioral patterns that affect children. They undergo medical school and complete a three-year residency.

According to the AACAP data, states are categorized into four groups based on their supply of CAPs: states with a sufficient supply, states with a high shortage, states with a severe shortage, and states with no CAPs. Virginia falls under the category of severe shortage, with only 264 CAPs in the state as of the most recent data from 2019.