Psychiatry is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.
Psychiatric illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
A doctor who works in psychiatry is called a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists must be medically qualified doctors who have chosen to specialize in psychiatry. This means they can prescribe medication as well as recommend other forms of treatment.
Being qualified physicians, psychiatrists can order or perform a full range of medical laboratory and psychological tests which, combined with discussions with patients, help provide a picture of a patient's physical and mental state. Their education and clinical training equip them to understand the complex relationship between emotional and other medical illnesses and the relationships with genetics and family history, to evaluate medical and psychological data, to make a diagnosis, and to work with patients to develop treatment plans.
What conditions can psychiatrists treat?
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
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
- Addictions, such as drug or alcohol misuse
- Psychiatrists may also provide psychological support for people with long-term, painful or terminal physical health conditions.
What happens during your appointments
During your first appointment, your psychiatrist will carry out an initial assessment. They'll look at both your mental and physical health, and may ask:
- About the problem that brought you to see them
- General questions about your life and thoughts
- To carry out a simple physical examination, such as checking your blood pressure – for example, before prescribing certain medications
- For information from other sources, such as your GP, relatives and social workers
After assessing your condition, the psychiatrist may prescribe medication or recommend other treatments, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
The number of times you need to see a psychiatrist and the length of each appointment will depend on your circumstances.
What Treatments Do Psychiatrists Use?
Psychiatrists use a variety of treatments – including various forms of psychotherapy, medications, psychosocial interventions and other treatments (such as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT), depending on the needs of each patient.
A psychiatrist may continue to manage your treatment or they may refer you to other community mental health services in your area. These services work in special clinics and hospitals clinics and aim to help people manage their illness so they can lead a normal life within the community.