What Is Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (an M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in mental health, including substance use disorders. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems.

People seek psychiatric help for many reasons. The problems can be sudden, such as a panic attack, frightening hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, or hearing “voices.” Or they may be more long term, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiousness that never seem to lift or problems functioning, causing everyday life to feel distorted or out of control.

Diagnosing Patients
Because they are physicians, psychiatrists can order or perform a full range of medical laboratory and psychological tests and assessments which, combined with discussions with patients, help provide a picture of a patient's physical and mental state. Their education and clinical training equip them to understand the complex relationship between emotional and other medical illnesses and the relationships with genetics and family history, to evaluate medical and psychological data, to make a diagnosis, and to work with patients to develop treatment plans.

Specific diagnoses are based on criteria established in APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which contains descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.

Psychiatry and Medication Management

Mental Health Medications

Please Note: You should discuss any information on this page with your mental health care provider.

Psychiatric medications influence the brain chemicals that regulate emotions and thought patterns. They’re usually more effective when combined with psychotherapy. In some cases, medication can reduce symptoms so other methods of a treatment plan can be more effective. For example, a medication can ease symptoms of depression like loss of energy and poor focus, which allows the individual to engage more in therapy.

Predicting who will respond to what medication can be difficult because different medications may work better for one person than another. Doctors review the client's clinical records to see if evidence exists for recommending one medication over another. Consideration is given to family history and side effects when prescribing medication. Genetic testing can also be used to identify the most effective medication for a client. 

Be persistent until you find the medication (or combination of medications) that works for you. A few psychiatric medications work quickly, and improvements can be seen within days, but majority work slowly. You may need to take a medication for several weeks or months before you see improvement. If you feel as though a medication isn’t working, or you’re having side effects, consult with your provider to discuss possible adjustments. Many people won’t experience side effects, or they will go away within a few weeks, but if they continue, changing medications or dosage will often help.

Medication Plan 
Your provider will likely start at a low dose and slowly increase dosage to achieve a level that improves symptoms. Following your provider’s instructions will reduce side effects and discomfort when possible. Understand the role medicines can play for key symptoms.

When stopping a medication, work with your doctor to taper off properly. This allows brain chemicals to adjust to the change. Stopping medication suddenly can result in uncomfortable side effects.

In some cases, psychiatric medication may be a short-term aid taken only for a few months. In others, medication may be long-term, or even lifelong. Some people are afraid that taking a medication will change their personality, but most find that medication allows them to take charge of their lives.

Reference: NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness

Share by: