Mental Health

Agitation Episode 1: Differentiating organic versus psychiatric

Most children who present to Pediatric Emergency Departments these days with mental health concerns – including agitation – have a known psychiatric problem or diagnosis. Furthermore, the connection between physical and functional symptoms is inextricably linked in many patients. Why then do we persist with the “is it medical/organic or psych” question? Ultimately, this episode hosted by Brad Sobolewski (@PEMTweets) and co-authored by Dennis Ren (@DennisRenMD) is less about “is it psych or not” and more about not missing something because you assumed the patient had a mental or behavioral problem. It is also episode 1 in a 5 episode series focused on agitation in children and adolescents.

After listening to this episode you will be able to:

  • Describe the findings on history and physical examination that differentiate organic vs psychiatric causes of agitation and altered mental status.
  • Develop a strategy to differentiate organic from psychiatric causes of altered mental status, including using ancillary studies

This episode is a co-production of the Emergency Medical Services for Children Innovation and Improvement Center whose mission is to minimize morbidity and mortality of acutely ill and injured children across the emergency continuum.

EMDocs Collaboration – the excellent Emergency Medicine site will also be contributing a supplementary article for each episode that will be posted each Friday following the release of the podcast episode. These articles will take another look at the content included in this episode.

Special thanks to Manpreet Singh, MD (@MprizzleER) for helping to put this collaboration together. 

Other Episodes in the Agitation Series

Episode 2: Non-pharmacologic management of agitated children (Coming May 24, 2023)

Episode 3: Pharmacologic management of agitated children (Coming May 31, 2023)

Episode 4: Safe pre-hospital transport of the agitated child (Coming June 7, 2023)

Episode 5: Management of the child with mental health problems who is boarded in the Emergency Department (Coming June 14, 2023)


To learn more about the Emergency Medical Services for Children Innovation and Improvement Center visit


Follow on Twitter @EMSCImprovement

EMSC IIC: Pediatric Education and Advocacy Kit (PEAK): Agitation

PEAK Agitation resources

Brad’s stuff


@PEMTweets on Twitter

My Mastodon account @bradsobo

My Educator Portfolio


Hua LL, COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE. Collaborative Care in the Identification and Management of Psychosis in Adolescents and Young Adults. Pediatrics 2021; 147.

Sedel F, Baumann N, Turpin JC, et al. Psychiatric manifestations revealing inborn errors of metabolism in adolescents and adults. J Inherit Metab Dis 2007; 30:631.

Chun TH, Sargent J, Hodas GR. Psychiatric emergencies. In: Textbook of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, 5th, Fleisher GR, Ludwig S, Henretig FM (Eds), Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia 2006. P.1820.

Cunqueiro A, Durango A, Fein DM, et al. Diagnostic yield of head CT in pediatric emergency department patients with acute psychosis or hallucinations. Pediatr Radiol 2019; 49:240.

Gerson R, Malas N, Feuer V, Silver GH, Prasad R, Mroczkowski MM. Best Practices for Evaluation and Treatment of Agitated Children and Adolescents (BETA) in the Emergency Department: Consensus Statement of the American Association for Emergency Psychiatry. West J Emerg Med. 2019 Mar;20(2):409-418. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2019.1.41344. Epub 2019 Feb 19. Erratum in: West J Emerg Med. 2019 May;20(3):537. Erratum in: West J Emerg Med. 2019 Jul;20(4):688-689. PMID: 30881565; PMCID: PMC6404720.


The Emergency Medical Services for Children Innovation and Improvement Center is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award (U07MC37471) totaling $3M with 0 percent financed with nongovernmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit

By bradsobo

Brad Sobolewski, MD, MEd is a Professor of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and an Associate Director for the Pediatric Residency Training Program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. He is on Twitter @PEMTweets and authors the Pediatric Emergency Medicine site PEMBlog and produces and hosts the PEM Currents: The Pediatric Emergency Medicine Podcast.

4 replies on “Agitation Episode 1: Differentiating organic versus psychiatric”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.