Psychiatry is a medical field concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental health conditions. A doctor who works in psychiatry is called a psychiatrist.
Unlike other mental health professionals, such as psychologists and counsellors, psychiatrists must be medically qualified doctors who have chosen to specialise in psychiatry. This means that they can prescribe medication as well as recommend other forms of treatment.
Mental health conditions that may be diagnosed and treated by a psychiatrist include:
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- personality disorders
- schizophrenia and paranoia
- depression and bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression)
- eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- sleep disorders, such as insomnia
Getting an appointment
To see a psychiatrist, you need to be referred by your doctor. Your doctor will refer you to a psychiatrist who specialises in the area of psychiatry that is related to your condition. For example, this may be:
- childhood and adolescent psychiatry
- general adult psychiatry
- older person’s psychiatry
- learning disabilities
- psychotherapy (talking therapies)
If you wish to see a psychiatrist privately, you can contact a psychiatric clinic directly to get an appointment. Alternatively, you can ask your doctor to refer you.
During your first appointment, the psychiatrist will carry out an initial assessment. The assessment will look at both your mental and physical health and could involve:
- asking you questions about your life and thoughts
- getting information from other sources, such as your doctor, relatives and social workers (if you have them)
- carrying out blood tests or scans to rule out other health conditions
The number of times that you need to see a psychiatrist and the length of each appointment will depend on your circumstances. A psychiatrist may continue to manage your treatment or they may refer you to other mental health community services in your area.
Psychiatric practice has changed significantly in recent years. Hospitals for people who are mentally ill have largely been replaced with smaller units and clinics. These aim to help people manage their illness so that they can lead a normal life within the community.