When to See a Psychiatrist

By Jill Kapil, Psy.D.
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October 21, 2022

If you notice symptoms of a possible mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, you may consider seeing a psychiatrist. These professionals take a holistic, comprehensive approach to mental health that can involve medications, brain-stimulating devices, or talk therapy.

But you don’t need a diagnosis to see a psychiatrist. You may benefit from having a trained person to talk to if you feel stressed, have mood swings, or desire more support. 

To help you determine if a psychiatrist may be right for you, in this article, we’ll clarify the role of psychiatrists in the mental health world. First we’ll outline the conditions psychiatrists treat. Then we’ll discuss signs and symptoms that indicate you may need to see a psychiatrist. Finally, we’ll go over how psychiatrists help and what to expect during an appointment.

Conditions Psychiatrists Treat

Psychiatrists treat a host of mental health conditions including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders (including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders

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When to See a Psychiatrist

If you experience any of the following, it may be beneficial to speak to a psychiatrist. With the right treatment, you can overcome negative thoughts and behaviors and improve your overall quality of life.

You’re unable to control your emotions

Trouble controlling your emotions can look like sudden outbursts, fits of anger, restlessness, or being easily irritated. This can be exacerbated if your sleep is disrupted or you have a substance addiction. Being unable to control your emotions may result in self-harm, harm to others, and risky behavior. 

Extreme changes in sleep patterns

Disruptions to your sleep patterns might be characterized by extreme fatigue followed by bouts of insomnia. You may notice you have high energy and then crash. 

Substance abuse or addiction

People with mental health struggles may turn to alcohol or other substances to cope with their symptoms. If your ability to function becomes dependent on substances, see a psychiatrist.

Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm

If you or a loved one has thoughts of self-harm or harming others, speak with a licensed psychiatrist immediately.

Withdrawal from social life

Withdrawing from social activities and no longer enjoying activities that one brought pleasure are signs that you should see a psychiatrist.

Excessive worry, anxiety, sadness, or depression

While it is completely normal to have a down mood at certain periods of your life, if your mood persists for weeks or months or you have uncontrollable anxiety, you may have an anxiety disorder. Fortunately, several treatment options are available, and a psychiatrist can discuss these.

Frequent nightmares or tantrums

Nightmares, detachment from reality, tantrums, and hearing voices could be indicators that you have a mental health condition needing treatment. If you experience hallucinations, delusions, or feelings of grandeur, discuss these symptoms with a psychiatrist. They can help diagnose and treat you. 

Phobias

Many people have fears such as spiders, public speaking, or being up high. Sometimes, though, phobias can become debilitating and affect your ability to carry out normal daily tasks. A psychiatrist can determine a suitable treatment plan or refer you to a licensed therapist who can discuss your triggers and help you develop healthy coping strategies.

Mood swings 

For people who menstruate, mood swings may be linked to hormones and may indicate premenstrual syndrome, perimenopause, or postpartum depression. However, when mood swings cannot be attributed to hormones, it may be a sign of a mental illness. Sudden, uncontrollable mood swings where you shift from a depressed state to manic energy could be symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

How Psychiatrists Can Help

After using tests to form a medical and/or psychological diagnosis, psychiatrists can develop a personalized treatment plan for you. This may consist of medications, procedures, therapies, or a combination of these options.

Diagnosis

As physicians, psychiatrists can order medical and psychological tests to determine which condition(s) someone has. A psychiatrist can also identify the presence of complex psychosis.

Medications

Psychiatrists commonly prescribe medications to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and some types of personality disorders. These drugs affect how the brain works and can help neutralize mood. They can help you manage your emotions and your response to triggers. 

Common psychotropic drugs include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)]
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)].
  • Mood stabilizers or antipsychotics
  • Atypical antidepressants

Procedures

In some cases—usually when patients experience no relief from medications and/or therapies—procedures may be necessary. Brain stimulation, a neurosurgical procedure in which electrodes are implanted into some regions of the brain, comes in the following forms of therapy:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): This can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions by changing electrical activity in the brain. While under anesthesia, electrical impulses are delivered to the brain to trigger a seizure. 
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): Also referred to as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), TMS triggers magnetic impulses to the brain to help stimulate nerves and increase brain activity.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation: This uses a device implanted in the chest to send regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain stem through the vagus nerve in the neck. Vagus nerve stimulation is believed to help rebalance brain chemicals linked to depression.

Therapies

The following talk therapies and alternative therapies can greatly improve symptoms related to mental health conditions and help those struggling to return to their daily routines and incorporate more joy into their lives. 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Revered as the gold standard of psychotherapy, CBT helps patients reframe negative or irrational thoughts, understand their triggers, and develop healthy coping strategies. CBT is highly effective in helping a person build deeper self-awareness and learn to react to stressors in a more positive way. 
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT helps you recognize challenges in your personal relationships that could be impacting your mental health. It can help you develop skills to manage difficult emotions, improve communication, and participate in social activities.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR): Several studies have shown that EMDR can replace the emotional distress resulting from traumatic memories such as car accidents and terrorist attacks with more neutral or even positive reactions or beliefs. EMDR works by stimulating the brain with a series of back-and-forth, repetitive eye movements for 20-30 seconds or with specific sequences of tapping or musical tones. At the same time, the individual recalls a traumatic event. 
  • Group therapy: Group therapy, or support groups, are an excellent way to connect with other people who may be facing similar mental health issues. Group therapy can make you feel less alone, teach coping skills, and reduce stigma around mental health conditions.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): Using a combination of CBT and mindfulness techniques, this approach teaches meditation and present-moment awareness. It helps build deeper self-awareness so you can identify what’s triggering your anxiety and/or depression, and manage them through mindfulness practices.
  • Pet therapy: Studies have found that a domestic animal such as a cat, bird, fish, or dog can be effective in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Having a dog to come home to has shown a reduction in anxiety and an improvement in mood over time for people who have anxiety or depressive symptoms.

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What to Expect During a Visit With a Psychiatrist

When you schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist, the first thing you typically do is fill out paperwork and assessments. You can expect to answer a lot of questions in your first session as the psychiatrist tries to determine why you are seeking treatment and what might be best suited for you. Most appointments will involve answering more questions. These questions could be related to your daily routine, emotions, family history, sleep schedule, stressors, personal relationships, and work.

How K Health Can Help

Want mental health support? K Health offers anxiety and depression medication for the right candidates.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why would you see a psychiatrist?
When symptoms of a mental health condition affect your ability to continue daily tasks, impinge on your relationships, or don’t ease over time, a psychiatric evaluation can help determine a diagnosis and a suitable treatment plan. You should see a psychiatrist if you have thoughts of self-harm, harm to others, and/or suicidal thoughts.
What does a psychiatrist do on the first visit?
Your first visit usually involves filling out paperwork and assessments. The psychiatrist will ask questions to get to know you. They may ask about your daily routine, sleep schedule, diet, personal relationships, work, medical and family history, mood, and any stressful events you may be experiencing. Your psychiatrist will evaluate your answers and any tests to form a diagnosis.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jill Kapil, Psy.D.

Dr. Jill Sorathia Kapil is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in California. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Education from the University of California, Irvine; and received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from CSPP, San Diego (California School of Professional Psychology). Dr. Kapil completed her predoctoral and postdoctoral training at various College/University Health Centers across California, and has been licensed as a Psychologist since 2016.