When it comes to seeking mental health care, patients and their families never say, “We came too early,” said Robert Findling, M.D. To the contrary, many people never receive any care at all despite the toll that mental illness can take, he said.

Findling, who became chair of the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine in January, wants to focus on supporting and continuing to grow Virginia Commonwealth University’s efforts to change that picture, both locally and globally.

“We want to really leverage the power of a university to do the most good, not only for patients in Richmond but for patients around the world,” said Findling, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry and pediatric psychopharmacology.

When Findling was a student in the VCU School of Medicine, he believed that neurosurgery would be his destination. But a rotation in child psychiatry set him on a different path.

“What I really enjoyed about psychiatry was its breadth,” he said. Drawing on brain science and biology — but also extending into psychology, human behavior, family, community and more — “it was that broad scope and diversity of things that are necessary to become a competent, compassionate psychiatrist that really drew me to the field.”

While completing his residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Findling served as chief resident and earned board certifications in child and adolescent psychiatry, psychiatry and pediatrics.

Throughout his career, Findling’s primary focus has remained on young people, particularly those with severe psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. He is a distinguished fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which last fall recognized him for his published research on bipolar disorder.

He also was invited to join the advisory board for a multiyear public broadcasting initiative to produce films that will bring issues surrounding mental health to the attention of millions of viewers. The first film, to premiere in 2022, focuses on people younger than 25, which is often when mental health conditions first appear.

“I refuse to believe that any child should be written off,” Findling said. “It is indescribably gratifying to get kids whom others have written off and watch them thrive and develop and be on the path toward a future of success and happiness.”