I use the word “doctor” quite liberally and often use it interchangeably with “psychiatrist.” The reason is quite simple – psychiatrists are, in fact doctors, they are just specialists. Yes, that’s right, your psychiatrist has all the rights and privileges that any other doctor has and could probably remove your spleen, if the occasion called for it.
Nevertheless, there are some crucial differences between “doctors” in general and “psychiatrists” in particular. And sometimes you need a psychiatrist and sometime any old doctor will do. So how do you know if you need a psychiatrist?
What are Psychiatrists?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors with specialized training in the area of mental health. So instead of just being a general practitioner, they attended extra schooling to specialize in mental health. A psychiatrist has about a decade of schooling beyond high school (depending on the country).
This is not to be confused with psychologist who is not a medical doctor and instead is a specialist in psychology. They are therapists and cannot prescribe medication.
Nor is this to be confused with your family doctor, who is a general practitioner. A general practitioner’s job is to take care of the daily cuts and scrapes of life and to know when to refer a patient to someone else.
Mental Illness and General Practitioners
It is my opinion that anyone with a mental illness should have a proper mental health evaluation by a psychiatric professional – a psychiatrist. General practitioners do a world of harm by not being able to recognize complex mental illnesses, often diagnosing “depression” when it’s not depression at all. General practitioners don’t diagnose cancer – a specialist does that – and the same should be true of a mental illness.
After you’ve been properly diagnosed by a psychiatrist it may then be possible to have your condition managed through a general practitioner either now or in the future, but only if you’re a bog-standard case of something simple or have been stable for a long time.
When Do You Need a Psychiatrist?
So, outside of diagnosis when do you need a psychiatrist?
- Any time you need more than one psychiatric medication (generally)
- If you have more than one diagnosis
- Any time you aren’t getting better under the care of a general practitioner
- If you’ve failed two or more antidepressants
- If you’re experiencing complex side effects
- Any time you wish to change your psychiatric medication
- If you disagree with your doctor’s treatment
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a general practitioner – they’re just not a specialist, that’s all. Because remember, a psychiatrist sees patients all day, every day, who are just like you, a general practitioner does not. A general practitioner does physicals and eye exams and prescribes antibiotics and looks down people’s throats all day. None of that is going to help you with a case of bipolar disorder.