Assessment of irritability in school-aged children by pediatric, family practice, and psychiatric providers

Usman Hameed, Cheryl Dellasega, Anna Scandinaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Irritability, a common behavioral problem for school-aged children, is often first assessed by primary care providers, who manage about a third of mental health conditions in children. Until recent changes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), irritability was often associated with mood disorders, which may have led to increases in bipolar disorder diagnosis and prescription of mood stabilizing medication. Objective: Our aim was to explore differences between the approaches psychiatric and primary care providers use to assess irritability. Methods: A single trained interviewer conducted detailed interviews and collected demographic data from a homogeneous group of physicians that saturated with a sample size of 17 pediatric, family medicine, and psychiatric providers who evaluate and treat school-aged children. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected and analyzed. Results: In general, primary care providers chose to refer children with irritability to mental health specialists when medication management became complex, while the psychiatric providers chose behavior modification and parent education strategies rather than medications. The psychiatric group had a significantly higher caseload mix, prior experience with irritability, and more confidence in their assessment capabilities. There was lack of continuing medical education about irritability in all groups. Conclusion: This preliminary study highlights the importance of collaboration between primary care and subspecialties to promote accurate assessment and subsequent treatment of school-aged children with irritability, who can represent a safety concern for self and others. More research is needed to establish an efficient method of assessing and managing irritability in primary care and better utilization of specialists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-345
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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