We’re fortunate that in modern society, we now see many more people actively working to remove the stigma associated with mental health. In the past, seeing an in-person or online psychiatrist to discuss mental health concerns had been thought of by some as a sign of weakness or a source of shame.
Now, it seems we’re collectively more willing to recognize the benefits when we consider our mental health in the same way we consider our physical health— as something that needs to be nurtured and cared for.
Asking yourself should I see a psychiatrist is the first step in acknowledging that you may need help. And that’s very brave. Especially when you consider that according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the United States deals with some form of mental health condition each year. One in 20 deals with a serious mental health condition.
One thing’s for sure…it’s become increasingly clear that there’s a desperate need for us to acknowledge that mental health is important. And a psychiatrist might be exactly where you can begin your journey if you’re considering getting professional help.
How Would a Psychiatrist Help?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the assessment, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. It takes about 10-12 years of training to become a psychiatrist. The path is intense, and it requires university studies, medical school, the completion of a field residency, and the passing of board exams to achieve this Doctorate of Medicine (MD) credential. In order to specialize in certain areas like child and adolescent psychiatry, substance-abuse, geriatrics, and forensic psychiatry, additional years of specialty training is required.
A psychiatrist is qualified to not only make an accurate mental diagnosis, but their medical school training also enables them to assess physical aspects that may be contributing to a patient’s psychological concerns. Another important role of a psychiatrist is they’re able to prescribe medication to treat mental health conditions. Note this is a primary difference between a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist. A mental health medication is commonly taken along with appropriate therapies to alleviate symptoms and/or alter negative emotions, unrealistic thinking, or consequential behaviors. Research has proven over years that combining medication and therapy leads to much more effective, long lasting and beneficial outcomes than any of the treatment alone.
It can be difficult for some people to know when to see a psychiatrist. Determining if you’re overburdened and just need to take a mental health break, or if something deeper is going on can feel overwhelming.
“It’s never too late to take care of yourself. Don’t wait, delay, or ignore anything that might improve your mental wellbeing.”Talkspace therapist Dr. Muhammad Munir
If you’re wondering, “Do I need a psychiatrist?” considering some key indicators below can help you come to a decision. Each of these are signals that it might be time to look for help. Mental health conditions do not indicate a personal failure. Rather, they can be directly linked to several factors that can be environmental or lifestyle. Some of the main reasons people may decide to seek help from a psychiatrist or mental health provider can include:
- Genetics (hereditary)
- Environmental stressors
- A chemical imbalance within the brain
- An undiagnosed brain trauma or brain infection
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Prenatal or fetal brain damage during birth
- Postpartum depression
- Poor nutrition
- Exposure to toxins
Reasons to Consult With a Psychiatrist
Determining when to see a psychiatrist will often require an honest self-assessment. While you shouldn’t try to self-diagnose any specific mental health conditions, you can certainly become aware of and pinpoint behaviors, emotions, and thought patterns that are unhealthy.
Even recurring, but temporary, episodes of anxiety, stress, depression, or mood swings might be an indication of a larger mental health condition that might warrant professional treatment. We all experience professional setbacks, failed relationships, financial worries, and personal loss at some point in life, but if it’s interfering with your ability to function daily, or it’s becoming an issue in your interpersonal relationships, there may be more going on.
It’s how you cope, how you react, and what you do to get through these life experiences that can define whether or not a psychiatric intervention is a good idea. If you’re trying to figure out when to see a psychiatrist, it can help to look for episodes of mental health symptoms that have:
- A sudden onset
- A sharp rise in intensity
- And/or a short course
- Long standing Anxiety
- Pattern of interpersonal conflicts
- Avoidance of responsibility
Mental health episodes may happen sporadically, but if they’re negatively affecting your quality of life, that’s a clear sign you may be ready to seek help.
Examples of acute mental health conditions that are recurring can include:
- Extreme anger
- Debilitating anxiety
- Eating or sleeping disorders
- Periods of intense sadness
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Answering the question: Do I need a psychiatrist?
Remember: it’s not a sign of weakness, but a show of both strength and humility if you’re willing to reach out for help. Continuing negative behaviors or thought patterns can be detrimental and have long-lasting consequences. Early intervention and a willingness to get a mental health professional’s guidance is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones.
The following signs may indicate it’s time to seek professional help:
- Difficulty regulating emotions or thought patterns
- Trouble controlling your emotions
- Unexplained or sudden health issues or physical illness
- Not performing efficiently or effectively at work or school
- Sudden changes in sleep patterns or appetite
- Excessive fears or extreme and constant worry
- Struggling to build and maintain relationships
- Unhealthy changes in sex drive or treatment of the opposite sex
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Detachment from reality, delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations
- A life-changing trauma (assault, car accident)
- Loss of interest in activities
- Increased self-isolation
- Grieving (that immobilizes for a long period)
- Increased substance abuse to alleviate symptoms (drugs, alcohol)
- Having suicidal thoughts or self-harm
- Continuous or frequent anger (for periods longer than six months)
- Excessive worry and/or anxiety
- Threats to self or others
The list above can help you determine whether you should decide to see a psychiatrist or mental health professional. But sometimes things aren’t always so clear. You might also be experiencing general life circumstances that are naturally difficult to handle. For example, relationships with people who have specific personalities (like introverts), who have no living family relations, who have extremely low self-esteem, or who’ve experienced childhood trauma, can all affect your own mental health.
Regardless of the reason you might be thinking of seeking help from a psychiatrist, there is absolutely no shame in doing so. You should be proud of yourself for focusing on self-care and recognizing your own mental health needs.
How to Find a Psychiatrist in Your Area
Knowing when to see a psychiatrist shouldn’t be stressful or hard, and knowing how to find a psychiatrist can be simple, too. Ways to find a psychiatrist in your area include:
- Asking friends and family members for a recommendation
- Searching online for a psychiatrist near you
- Calling and interviewing potential psychiatrists
- Having a clear idea in your mind about what you want to accomplish in therapy
- Not being afraid to meet with multiple providers so you can find the right fit
If meeting in person makes getting help more difficult, you still have options. Both a diagnosis and treatment can be delivered via online therapy. However, if it’s a child showing symptoms of mental health problems, you will need to research what a child psychiatrist is and where to find one.
Today, online mental health providers make it easy for you to get the help you need and deserve. Being in the comfort of your home when speaking to a psychiatrist has many benefits. Online mental health treatment is:
- More accessible for those with physical limitations
- Convenient for busy schedules
- Private and confidential for those who feel hesitant to talk about their condition
- Affordable — many now even accept insurance
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there’s a growing wave of online mental health therapy providers that offer both flexibility and affordability in treatment. In the past, online therapy may have once been time- or cost-prohibitive. Similar to telemedicine, telepsychology services can be delivered by phone, webcam (videoconferencing), FaceTime, smartphone, email, or text messaging. Nowadays, psychiatry costs are more affordable, making mental health more accessible.
If you’d rather find a psychiatrist to physically visit in your area, a good place to start is with a referral from your primary care doctor or insurance company. And of course, you can always do a quick internet search to find local options for the mental health provider serving your community online, within a hospital setting, or in a private office.
1. Mental Health By the Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Nami.org. https://www.nami.org/mhstats. Published 2021. Accessed September 3, 2021.
2. What is a psychiatrist? Understanding this critical role. Medical Blog | St. George’s University | The SGU Pulse. https://www.sgu.edu/blog/medical/what-is-a-psychiatrist/. Published January 9, 2019. Accessed September 27, 2021.
3. Warning signs of mental illness. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness. Published July 2018. Accessed September 27, 2021.
4. A growing wave of online therapy. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/02/online-therapy. Published 2017. Accessed August 27, 2021.