Have you ever thought about seeing a psychiatrist? It is difficult for the general public to know what situations need a psychiatrist. To review, psychiatrists are physicians who treat mental illness (or mental disorders), utilizing medication treatment, psychotherapy, and psychosocial interventions. Mental health, on the other hand, is addressed by psychologists and social workers. People with mental health issues, like loss of a loved one, do not necessarily need a psychiatrist, as psychiatrists deal with mental illness, like schizophrenia. The following are 11 tell tale signs that it’s time to see a psychiatrist.
- Thoughts of self harm
- Thoughts of violence
- Mood instability
- Social isolation
- Significant changes in behaviour
- Cognitive decline with worsening functioning
- Eating and body image problems
- Counselling not helping
- Primary care doctor visits not helping
If you are having thoughts of self harm, then you need an urgent psychiatric assessment. If you have imminent thoughts of suicide and have a plan, then this is an emergency and you need an immediate psychiatric assessment, to prevent suicide. Thoughts of self-harm may be part of an underlying mental disorder such as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or a psychotic disorder. Substance abuse can also trigger thoughts of self-harm. Hospitalization may be needed if safety concerns are present.
If you are harboring thoughts of violence, then you also need an urgent psychiatric assessment. Wanting to harm others may be a sign of an underlying mental illness, such as psychosis, mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or dementia. Substance abuse can also be associated with violence, as drugs of abuse can disinhibit people to act on their thoughts. Having paranoid delusions may set one up for violence towards others, if they are paranoid that others are trying to harm them. A person with post traumatic stress disorder may be triggered by a particular person, if that person reminds them of the trauma they endured. If a person is suffering from dementia, then their cognitive decline may also influence there thinking, as the normal frontal lobe brain functions to suppress unwanted thoughts are now unsupressed. Hospitalization may be needed if a severe mental illness is present, and safety continues to be a concern. The doctor will also need to involve the police if there is an identifiable person or institution that is the focus of the violent thoughts. These measures are to ensure safety of the public and the person who is exhibiting these violent thoughts.
Delusions are fixed, false beliefs, such as the belief that one can fly, or thinking one is the Chosen One, or believing that the FBI and CIA are after you (but the doctor needs to confirm this last one, as it could be true). Delusions could be part of an underlying mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, so a referral to a psychiatrist is needed.
Hallucinations are defined as the perception of a stimulus through one of the senses (hearing, seeing, taste, feel, smell), but the stimulus is not present. This is differentiated from illusions, in which the stimulus is present, but the perception through the senses is distorted. Hallucinations should prompt one to see a psychiatrist immediately, as it could be due to an underlying mental illness, such as schizophrenia or a mood disorder.
Mood instability such as irritability, low frustration tolerance, and mood swings may be indicative of a mental illness such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. Having mood instability may interfere with counselling or self-help interventions. Therefore, it may be necessary to see a psychiatrist for an assessment.
Isolating oneself may be indicative of a mental illness, like social phobia, panic disoerder with agoraphobia, major depressive disorder, or schizophrenia. One may have difficulty leaving their home, with resultant decline of relationships, employment, schooling, and self-care measures. This isolation cycle may benefit from seeing a psychiatrist.
If people around you are concerned about significant changes in your behavior, then it may be time to see a psychiatrist. For instance, previously mild-mannered, but all of a sudden, you go on spending sprees, run up the long distance phone bill, you have had no sleep in days, yet are still full of energy…yes, it might be time to see a psychiatrist! The previous scenario depicts someone who may be exhibiting a manic episode as part of bipolar disorder.
If you are older than age 60, and you notice that your memory is worsening, are having difficulty with everyday tasks, and starting to misplace things, then it may be time to see a psychiatrist. Dementia might be a problem when cognition and executive functioning are declining.
If you are not eating properly, have low weight for your height and body type, and have body image problems, then you may need to see a psychiatrist. What is of concern here are eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
If counselling is not helping and one continues to exhibit symptoms of a mental illness, then a referral to a psychiatrist may be needed. Sometimes, symptoms of an illness become so severe that psychiatric intervention is necessary, before one can benefit from counselling.
Primary care doctors treat a significant portion of patients with mental illness, as there is a worldwide shortage of psychiatrists. So primary care doctors become the primary treatment providers for patients with mental illness when psychiatrists are not available. However, if symptoms of a mental illness continue or worsen, then a referral to a psychiatrist may be necessary.
In summary, psychiatrists treat mental illness, and psychologists and social workers deal with mental health. The above list should help one to determine if they need to see a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, psychiatry is not easily accessible in many parts of the world. But if you need a psychiatrist, go to your family doctor and request for a referral to one. If a psychiatrist is not available in your region, then ask your doctor if there telepsychiatry available, where psychiatrists can see patients via video conferencing technology.