If you need medication to help manage your mental health symptoms, you will need to work with a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who also has training in mental health. Some psychiatrists also perform therapy, but most don’t. Your therapist can help you determine what to discuss with your psychiatrist.
When you visit a psychiatrist for the first time, they will want to know:
- What are your symptoms?
- How long have you been having your symptoms?
- Is there a pattern to your symptoms? For example, have your moods been going up and down?
- What medications are you currently on, including over-the-counter medications?
- Have you tried other medications to manage your condition?
- How much sleep have you been getting?
- Do you have other health conditions? Have you seen your primary physician lately, and what did they say?
From there, they will determine what medications might help you. They might have you taper onto the medication, that is, take a smaller dose to begin with and build up to the therapeutic dose. They also might require you to take blood tests to determine if you have a therapeutic dose or if you have conditions that can be triggered by the medication.
After that, they will meet with you to see how the treatment is going, called a med check. They will want to know:
- Have you seen a decrease in your symptoms?
- What side effects have you had from the medication? (Don’t be surprised if they aren’t really interested in your side effects. I went on one medication that upset my stomach, and all the psychiatrist told me was that it will pass. He was right, but oh, it was rough until then. On the other hand, I was on medication that was making me sleepy when I was driving, and he took me off of that right away.)
- Have you seen your primary physician lately, and what did they say? (Some medications increase your risk of certain conditions, such as high cholesterol.)
- Have you changed any medications lately?
Don’t be surprised if you have to try a series of medications to find one that helps you. Everyone’s symptoms and chemistry are different.
If your symptoms are severe, the psychiatrist might recommend admitting you to a hospital to stabilize you in a controlled setting. They also can prescribe other medical treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy for depression that doesn’t respond to other treatments.
If you need accommodations at your workplace for your mental health condition, your psychiatrist can provide a letter detailing your condition and the required accommodations. See Should You Disclose Your Mental Illness At Work? for more information about accommodations.
A psychiatrist is a key member of your mental health team. But you must realize that their area of expertise is in medications and medical treatments, not therapy or life skills. For non-medical treatments for your mental illness, you need to see a therapist.