A psychiatrist is a doctor who specializes in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. Mental illness can manifest in lots of different ways and so psychiatrists work in clinics, in hospitals, and can come to the home. There are psychiatric services in general hospitals as well as in special psychiatric hospitals. Because mental and physical illness can go hand in hand, psychiatrists often work closely with and are consulted by, healthcare professionals from other disciplines.
Treatment of mental health problems can take many forms, and psychiatrists look at mental health from a background of specialized medical training. They work with psychologists, who don't necessarily have a medical degree but do have qualifications and training to make them expert in managing some mental health problems. A psychiatrist will diagnose and help to manage serious mental illness and prescribe psychiatric medication. A psychologist may focus on non-medical management of mental health conditions, such as talking therapies, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They will also work with counsellors and with general practitioners. Some mental illnesses have links to physical illness and so a mental health team will have a good understanding of related medical conditions.
A psychiatrist may be involved in the diagnosis and management of mental health problems like depression and anxiety, which are common and treatable but can be debilitating to the person suffering from them.
The strain of living with and caring for someone with depression or other mental illness is well recognised and mental health practitioners can involve the family of their patient in their ongoing care plans. This can be beneficial for both the patient and their family, and group or family therapy is beneficial in many common mental health conditions.
A psychiatrist will assess, recognise, and diagnose mental illness, and this diagnosis will inform future treatment. They may be able to offer or refer the patient for simple and effective therapies like counselling, mindfulness and resilience techniques, or tailored physical exercise programmes which are well evidenced in the management of some mental health conditions. Chronic mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or personality disorder may require the ongoing support of a psychiatric team, and some of the medication available for psychiatric conditions requires ongoing monitoring. Mental health doctors have a good understanding of the side effects of psychiatric medication and can help to monitor this.
Mental illness can be triggered by all kinds of situations or life events, or can present with no obvious trigger. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and specialist psychiatric nurses also work in acute mental health settings or psychiatric hospitals, because occasionally some people with serious mental illness need to be admitted to a specialized unit while their illness is stabilized, or because their illness means they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else. People may also need psychiatric help when they are admitted to care facilities for unrelated reasons, and many acute hospital settings have around-the-clock psychiatric team for these patients.
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