How to Know If You Need a Psychiatrist

June 21, 2012 Natasha Tracy

Do you need a psychiatrist? Here's a checklist of reasons you may need a psychiatrist for mental illness. Your family doctor may not cut it for mental illness.

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?

Why Would You Need a Psychiatrist?

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?

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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, June 21). How to Know If You Need a Psychiatrist, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Dr Musli Ferati
October, 26 2017 at 7:00 pm

Anyway, psychiatric care embrace complex medical treatment of mental disorders and relation somatic illnesses with emotional implications, as well. So, it is important to disclose the time where we need any psychiatric help and consultation, because each mental illness might progress to serious mental and somatic disease. Your seven critical observation to inevitable psychiatric examination exhibit grat contribute te comprehensive psychiatric treatment of patents with mental difficulties. But in daily medical and psychiatric practice the situation isn't as simple as it seems in the first sight. There exist many prejudice about psychiatrist care system and people ignore and avoid psychiatric examination and treatment. as well. People with mental disorders are prone to visit non-psychiatrist doctors and others laic mental licks-pitle, because they think psychiatris treat only fool people. This and many other primitive attitudes to psychiatric profession profoundly ruins adequate psychiatric treatment and management of mental disorders, anywhere and at any time. To overcome this atavistic antipsychiatric view, it ought to make mental health care obligation for all population all around the world. Otherwise, the fate of numerous psychiatric patient would be miserable, like terrible mediaeval circumstances.

Apoorva Singh
September, 5 2017 at 9:47 pm

My friend has been molested in her childhood n during teenage also. Now she is facing sleeping disorder and she cries more often. Does she need a visit to psychiatrist?

Joyce ibbetson
August, 29 2017 at 8:06 am

My friend can be okay one minute then she can get aggressive but she won't listen to anyone she thinks everyone is against her she has lost her children they have been taken into care but no one seems to help her I think that she has a mental problems

Finley Moreira
August, 22 2017 at 6:17 am

I didn't know that a psychiatrist was a general practitioner that specializes in mental health issues. Does that mean they deal with the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety? I have a close friend that has been battling anxiety, and I think she ought to see someone for help on how she can better cope with it on a daily basis.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
August, 22 2017 at 7:10 am

Hi Finley,
Yes, psychiatrists specialize in mental illness and anxiety disorders are one type of those mental illnesses. I would recommend that your friend seek out a psychotherapist (psychologist) and a psychiatrist for help.
- Natasha Tracy

August, 18 2017 at 4:18 am

Hi my frnd mom is getting angry fast n frustrated n now a days she always doubt shak karna on her hubby dat he have affair with her daughter in law n always want to discuss or argue in any matter,she depressed with her life also n she is suffering from Parkinson'sdisease n having problem of object n person she always saw in night which is not der anything so family members consulting with nuerologist for Parkinson's disease but now he says to go for psychiatrist. So give suggestions wat to do n is it serious matter or wat?

Salman Adam
July, 6 2017 at 4:39 pm

Hi! I don't know what is wrong with me. Since teenage i have a habit of overthinking or feeling things too deep. I cannot decide what to do or sometimes i don't understand how to deal with some of the situations. I always feels like i need a place to live alone. I'm in search of peace since a very long time but i couldn't find till now. Most of the times i get irritated with almost everything without any reason. Suffering from insomnia and i'm almost depressed! So, i need help. I can't take these anymore! I feel unimportant

May, 31 2017 at 11:32 am

Okay so I've always had anxiety issues in the past but now since I've had two little boys who are now two and a half and 10 months I feel like I am out of control. My family doctor said it was postpartum depression and has prescribed me Zoloft and Prozac but the side effects of those were terrible and made me feel really sick. Now she has me on 10 mg of nortriptyline which is a very low dose that I don't believe his helping at all. She doesn't seem to take me very serious then I expressed my concern about how I'm reacting to my children and my husband. I haven't been completely open and honest with her because she is so judgemental and have asked her about seeing a psychiatrist but she says they're just for medications and since I was honest with her in the beginning about having a drug abuse past using painkillers she obviously doesn't want to put me on anything addictive. However I've been spiraling out of control ever since I got pregnant with my first son and blamed it on the form owns for as long as I could but now it's getting to the point where something has to be done to save my marriage and my relationship with my children. I have no friends that I hang out with or call on the phone anymore I seem to get too stressed out about letting them know about my life and what I do all day. I'm a stay-at-home mom so I do take care of my children to the best of my abilities but my day is full of constant ups and downs worrying if I'm doing everything right or wrong trying to start cleaning the kitchen getting distracted by the laundry room getting distracted by vacuuming and trying to shampoo up spots on the carpet and then dusting and then taking out the garbage and picking up garbage off the street and then coming in absolutely exhausted and laying on the couch and when my children need me and I have no energy left them. It gets very very exhausting. So then I nap and I wake up in a horrible mood grouchy that I kids have woke me up and then I get affordable guilt that I'm being so mean to my children for just being kids and so then I'm overly nice playing with them trying to compensate for this behavior and I feel like I'm going absolutely batshit crazy. I know that this isn't okay and that I have a serious problem with being so manic at times and accusing my husband of things that he definitely would never do but I get myself so worked up in the moment and I also deal with post-traumatic stress disorder from abusive relationships in the past and I'm constantly trying to explain myself and stumbling stuttering my words trying to get my point across when in all reality my husband doesn't even care he isn't even question me about something it's just ridiculous. I would never hurt my children but I feel like emotionally I'm causing them some problems from them seeing your mom cry and get so upset and angry all the time and then being so happy and crying and saying I'm sorry to them all the time that can't be good. I also bite my nails and the skin around my nails really bad but the worst of it is I pick the skin in between my pointer finger and thumb on both hands to the point where it bleeds and will hurt for days and I don't let it heal because I continue picking at it. I used to cut myself when I was younger but I'm not able to do that anymore because my husband we'll see the cuts and know that I'm doing it even though I tried to blame it on something else so I just resort to taking my skin and I also use control over my food as a form of harm. I won't eat all day until 3 p.m. when I'm starving and shaking and then I'll find the eat and feel sick and sometimes pick it back up and sometimes you just lay there and have to take a nap and not move. These are all things I know that I should be telling a psychiatrist and not my family doctor I just need to get a recommendation to go to one but I feel like she thinks I'm just after medication with which in all honestly I feel like I do need some medication to help get me back to normal because I'm not getting any better soon and my kids aren't going to get any easier to raise and my husband is losing his patience more and more with me everyday. What do I do?

April, 13 2017 at 5:11 am

I want to know do I need a phychologist or a phyciantrist. My parents used to fight all the time when I was n little girl and sometimes it really got out of hands and ugly. Today I have a really bad temperature and when I get mad it always turns out ugly. I usally punsh my fist agains the wall or agains anything just to relax a bit. wheni was younger I used to cut myself it made me feel relaxing. My mom always told me to get some help. when my husband and I are having a fite he also tells me to go and see a dr. I can't understand my emosions sometimes. I can feel so happy and excited then suddenly be so mad eand feeling tired. I hate the way I look I hate a mirror and I got really bad trust issues. my husband is really getting tired of false accusing

January, 14 2017 at 9:01 pm

I was wondering if you had any advice on a GP that is not being very helpful at recognizing something that is wrong. When my mom died 7 years ago, I switched doctors to one that was close to home and that my dad's side of the family loves. I have been experiencing issues with my mental health for years (I didn't go to my previous family doctor often due to distance so he would not have known about issues)
7 years of going to my current doctor for depression and mood issues and not getting proper treatment (He honestly tried to prescribe me self esteem books, which I really do not feel like that is my issue) I asked about seeing a psychiatrist because I can't keep living like this. I'm okay for a couple weeks, maybe a month and then I crash into depression and stuff - and asking for mood stabilizing medication from my doctor is like pulling teeth. He replied that a psychiatrist wouldn't want to see me because they're really busy and only want to deal with people suffering severe issues like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
I've tried explaining to him it does effect my life and work, having distracting breakdowns but he doesn't seem to take it seriously. I end up usually getting less then a months worth of antidepressants and just not going to the doctor's for months after an appointment because visiting him causes great stress because he doesn't listen or try to actually help me. My family worships him because they've had him for 40+ years. I can't go to the doctor's office without crying and getting worked up because of the stress.
Is there a easier way to see a psychiatrist? Thank you.

March, 4 2016 at 12:17 pm

Okay, so, all my friends have been noticing changes in my mental state. One asked if I have Bipolar Disorder and I know that I have OCD and severe anxiety yet my mom won't take me to a psychiatrist. What do I do? I want to know what's going on with me and I'd like to know. How do I convince her to take me to see a professional?

syed hassanain
March, 1 2016 at 4:01 am

Hi.i feel very depressed,anxiety.i don't what happened to me.sir please me.what should i do.i feel tired always,get bored .i lost my interest in any thing.i am worried. I can't concentrate in any thing.sir plz help me

Alex Trodder
February, 26 2016 at 9:47 am

You make a great point about how a psychiatrist must first be a doctor and then go on for additional specialized training to become a licensed psychiatrists. This means they have all the background and training as a general physician. This can make obtaining psychiatric medication much easier. Additionally, an experienced psychiatrists can also have a better idea of how different pharmaceuticals work and if they will be a good choice for you and your medical conditions. Thanks for your post.

January, 24 2016 at 9:05 pm

Hi well this is a first, i need to know if i need to see a psychiatrist or maybe just a psychologist or maybe just get some fam terapy

Dr Musli Ferati
January, 16 2016 at 9:15 pm

Anymore, clinical psychiatrist is a doctor who posses clinical and theoretical knowledge to diagnose and medicate patients with mental disorder. Since mental illnesses are complex and have got perplex nature, there are others specialist and assistants who take places on the comprehensive and current treatment of people with mental disorders. Among them, clinical psychologist, social workers, psychiatric nurses are participant of psychiatric staff of any psychiatric department. But clinical psychiatrist is the leader of professional team, which one treats and manage patient with any psychiatric entity. So, it is preferable to see any psychiatrist when you have got any mental difficulty, which ones is chronic and persistent to common medical treatment. Moreover, clinical psychiatrist is able to order due psychiatrist drugs, which are principal approaching to appropriate treatment of respective mental disorder. Under his supervision and close follow up is psychiatrist team who participate on complex and multimodal treatment of patient with mental illness. Today there are many sub-specialist in psychiatry, such are child, psychiatry, biological psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, social psychiatry and so on. Clinical psychiatrist and clinical psychologist are specialist of mental pathology, but they have different approach to mental pathology. The firs one have medical approach while psychologist uses psychologist tests and admonitions to help psychiatric patients. However, psychiatrist and psychologist are equal pair on modern treatment of psychiatric patients. They work yp by complementary and collaborative principle in complex psychiatric treatment.

y kane
January, 10 2016 at 8:31 pm

whent to hospital for scan told by gp every thing ok by doctor wants to seeyou sure iknow results thats all iwant

y kane
January, 10 2016 at 8:27 pm

was seen by my doctor told her iwas inlot of pain have not slept for weeks she says ineed to seepsychiarist iam not going itold her iam not mad just in pain

July, 10 2015 at 10:33 am

Hi just wondering if anyone could advise?
I've been to see a psychologist about my mental health state.
At first he said I had clinical depression and anxiety until I told him how wild I was a few months back..I was literally buzzing from head to toe for a month!
He's arranged for me to see a psychiatrist (waiting for appointment) all he said to me was I definitely have a mood disorder and he'd like me to see the psychiatrist for a diagnosis??
What should I expect?
He basically knows my lows are extremely low and my highs are mental..but I never feel normal w lol at least for the last couple of years! I'm always really depressed for a few months..on a massive high for a month and then somewhere a bit more happy than normal happy?
It don't make sense and I don't get it!? I'm frustrated and agitated too.
Help! What will the psychiatrist think of this?

February, 15 2015 at 7:30 am

For those of us with a diagnosable mental illness I believe that for the best results the services of both a psychiatrist (primarily for the physical symptoms, especially if they are severely debilitating) and ideally a psychologist (or simply a counsellor, which is often cheaper) for the mental health symptoms are needed. The problem for me is that where I live, while psychiatrists are completely/indefinitely paid for, a psychologist (on my extended healthcare plan) is not. I am limited to only a few psychologist (not the simple counselor type) visits per year. So what I do is read a lot of self help books and try to wade myself through a number of related self help workbooks then I make use of the limited professional counselling for the areas that are harder for me to work through. It's expensive and a lot of work and sometimes I feel like giving up but I know from experience that the end result is worth it even if it only allows me to move a tiny bit forward.
I went to a GP for over a year who prescribed one psychiatric medication and I got progressively worse until I ended up in hospital. The hospital then referred me to another psychiatrist when I got out and that has made all the difference...

Jenn Davies
January, 15 2015 at 1:46 pm

I was wondering if I should take my daughter to a psychiatrist instead of a general practitioner, but I guess this answers that question. I always thought the main difference was in the ability to prescribe drugs, but this includes even more specifications. It's always better to talk to a specialist, and mental health is no different. |

kopal shah
August, 12 2014 at 6:18 pm

i have an headache from last 6 days.. n cant concentrate on my work.

December, 11 2013 at 8:53 pm

Anil, these are some of the problems I was having which I ignored, six years ago before I became mentally ill. If I could have my time over I would have consulted a psychiatrist straight away. A psychologist would also be a good idea. Now is the time to start observing your problems and keeping a notebook. This kind of evidence is helpful to a psychiatrist.

December, 11 2013 at 5:43 pm

Hi Friends,
I dont know whether i need a psychiatrist or not. So please suggegst.
I am getting angry in silly things whcih later i realize that i shouldnt be angry at all for that. I dont think i am stressed at work at all but I am nit enjoying my work.
I am becoming a short tempered man which is really screwing my personal life . I am not able to concentrate on anything always i want to do something some hiw I am getting distracted by giving some excuse.also thisbis impacting my personal as well as career growth.
Friends i really need help what should I do now? Whenever i am getting angry i am reqching at the top also ruining few stuffs at home whatever comes my way at that time. Eagerly waiting for a suggestion.

Natasha B
October, 23 2013 at 9:58 am

Hi Natasha
I was admitted to hospital for 6 weeks with severe depression and phycosis some years back i was never dx with anything , after going high from anti ds on a number of occassions my pdoc says its cyclothymia but I think that's wrong just wondered if you could shed some light on it

Natasha Tracy
July, 15 2012 at 7:04 am

Hi Nadaranda,
In my opinion, if you're dealing with issues from child hood, sexual abuse and trust, you need to speak to a psychologist - generally. It's always possible you will need a bit more help than a psychologist can offer, but I would start there if I were you.
- Natasha Tracy

July, 14 2012 at 8:32 pm

I know I have a mental health problem. I have been fighting it by trying to hide it, but I think it has influenced my life in many different negative ways. I am not sure who do I need to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I haven't talked to my dr. about this issue, but he is a pill dr. and I don't want him just to give me a pill. I need to find out issues from my childhood from sexual abuse to lack of trusting. Where should I go? Who do I see?
Thanks in advance!

June, 26 2012 at 3:26 pm

Hi, I just sort of stumbled on your website. Not sure where to turn. I have a friend that is extremely depressed and I don't know where to turn. She has no money. Are there any places that will treat people by their ability to pay? I could help a little, but not sure what treatment costs these days.
Thanks for any input.

Natasha Tracy
June, 25 2012 at 1:44 pm

Hi Patrick,
Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest that the systems were the same everywhere. I can't comment on the UK system of licensing as I'm not familiar with it.
I couldn't say what the average length of time is for a psychiatrist or psychologist to treat a mental illness however it is the psychiatrist's (or another doctor's) responsibility to do med checks periodically and that goes on for as long as you take medication.
Each person's experience is going to be different with a GP or a psychiatrist, certainly.
- Natasha Tracy

Patrick Quinlan
June, 25 2012 at 1:18 pm

Dear Natatasha.
In the UK a Physciatrist gets one years extra training.If a physciatrist took out your spleen then sue the hell out of them because they are not qualified to do that.Its called a surgeon(and they get a lot of extra training not just one year.
A Physiologist has studied one field for more than the Psychiatrist has studied many and no they cant prescribe pills but a nurse practitioner can do that so whats the point.
I noticed from reading your posts that you have a fixation on physical illnesses that impact the mind understandable and if i suffered from Bi-polar i wouldn't need or want to go anywhere else.On these topics i trust you completely as you put stuff in terms a layperson can understand.However you protelyse on other subjects and ask tobe taken on faith with no supporting evidence to back you up.
Psychiatrists are good for physical ilness(maybe) but thats all.
Question for you(mainly as i dont know where to look.What is the average length of time for treatment of none physical illnesses treated by a psychiatrist and the average length of time when treated by a psychotherapist(non psychiatrist)
Finally,you criticize GP's but i have had two that both correctly diagnosed me and one psychiatrist that got it wrong.
Some GP's are good but depending on your illness all Physicists are wrong.

June, 24 2012 at 2:39 pm

I just spent another weekend attempting to refuel to face the week ahead. I opened my laptop and "googled" High-functioning Bipolar. I guess I was looking for solace or camaraderie, albeit solo. I can honestly say i have never posted on a blog. So, what "googled" up was Natasha's article from 1/2011 titled "High Functioning Bipolar". I read it and knew I could have written the same theme of words. Maybe it was exactly what i needed to hear.. "if you can do it, I'll do it". I am exhausted but i never seem to stop making life more challenging. There are some days after 11 hours working in my supposedly 8 hour/5 day per week job as an outpatient mental heath clinic therapist, that i know there is little difference between me and my patients. They see their therapist and psychiatrist and I help them along... I see my therapist and psychiatrist and they help me along. I've tried every psychotropic medication over time and i've burned the tail off of their effectiveness. Perhaps I hold the hope for my patients, when they have no hope left. As my truly wonderful psychiatrist told me about 10 years ago, "We're all just Bozo's on the same bus". But this bozo is tired of managing life with mental illness. I'm getting too tired. It's so much and too much work.

June, 21 2012 at 4:24 pm

I firmly believe that a psychiatrist is the most qualified to treat and evaluate my bipolar status. I was originally misdiagnosed as depressed by me general practitoner. I later was advised to see a psychiatrist who correctly diagnosed me. I have a terrific psychiatrist who listens to my thoughts, concerns and input. I am currently stable; I doubt that would have happened if I was still treated by my family doctor.

Patricia Bosley
June, 21 2012 at 3:48 pm

Thank you. I'm so grateful to you for your informative blogs.
I actually have a great psychiatrist that I have been seeing for years. That's great if your symptoms are a bay for the most part but I think that it is important for people to know that if they are not getting better with their psychiatrist that it is okay to change him/her. I have a friend who is scared to change for offending him but her meds are clearly off.

Leave a reply