Navigating Mental Health Care: When to Consult a Psychiatrist and What to Expect  

May 11, 2023 | Mental Health

woman sitting on a gray couch sadly looking out the window

Navigating mental health care becomes less intimidating when you understand when to see a psychiatrist. It’s important to understand that you don’t have to face your challenges alone. Dr. Manuel Astruc M.D. & Associates wants to help you find relief and hope.

If you’re struggling with mental health concerns, the first thing to know is that you’re not alone. With treatment, you can overcome the obstacles you’re experiencing and get back to feeling like yourself. Knowing when to see a psychiatrist and what to expect can feel overwhelming, but taking the first step can also be empowering.

Introduction to Mental Health Care and Psychiatrists 

More than 50 million American adults and nearly seven million adolescents experience mental illness, according to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Demand for mental health services was already high before the pandemic, and it continues to increase in the wake of COVID-19 as more people seek help. 

Mental health is an umbrella term that forms the foundation for everything from coping with emotions and building self-esteem to developing the ability to think clearly and learn effectively. Mental illness includes various conditions that can change the way you feel, think, or behave. These conditions can impact your ability to focus or concentrate, potentially having a negative effect on work and school life. Mental health issues can also affect your relationships, your ability to cope with stress and adversity, and your adaptability. 

Common mental health illnesses include, but are not limited to, the following: 


Hundreds of millions of people suffer from anxiety worldwide. These disorders are characterized by excessive worry and fear that cause distress and can interfere with daily life. Anxiety conditions include: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Panic disorder 


Depression is more than just short-term emotional responses to life situations. It is characterized by feelings of sadness, emptiness, irritability, and hopelessness. This may include losing pleasure in things you typically enjoy, changes in appetite, and low energy levels. Depression is most often diagnosed when these symptoms lead to trouble functioning in one’s life or cause a significant amount of emotional distress. Because of this, people with depression are at a higher risk of suicide. Common types of depression include:

  • Major depression, with symptoms lasting a minimum of two weeks 
  • Persistent depressive disorder, with symptoms that last up to two years 
  • Perinatal depression 
  • Seasonal affective disorder 

Bipolar Disorder 

Bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating episodes of mania and depression. Manic episodes include symptoms like increased energy, euphoria, needing less sleep, feeling more impulsive, recklessness, distractibility, and racing thoughts. During depressive episodes, you may feel sad and empty, experience a loss of energy and an increased need for sleep, and lose interest in normal activities. 


A 2022 Deloitte survey of 1,000 professionals revealed that 77% experienced burnout at their jobs, with more than 50% struggling with it twice or more. Caused by prolonged exposure to stress, this condition can create symptoms like feeling drained and exhausted. It can also leave you with feelings of self-doubt, helplessness, and increasing cynicism, all of which ultimately negatively affect your work performance.

Understanding the Role of a Psychiatrist in Mental Health Care 

Before seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression, it helps to have a firm grasp on what these professionals do and how they can help. Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. Psychiatrists undergo extensive schooling to become a medical doctor (M.D.) or D.O., which are both qualified to assess and treat all aspects of psychological health. 

This essential role includes: 


Psychiatrists have the expertise and tools needed to perform or order various tests, including medical testing, laboratory tests, and psychological evaluations. Combined with patient consultations, psychiatrists can use their knowledge and training to evaluate the data and use it to diagnose patients based on the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria. 


Based on the patient’s diagnosis, a psychiatrist will devise an individualized treatment plan to help relieve symptoms and address any underlying medical conditions. Common treatments include: 

Psychotherapy: Patients talk with a psychiatrist or therapist to help change behaviors and alter thought patterns. Psychotherapy can also help you uncover and cope with the effects of past experiences and relationships and enhance problem-solving skills. 

Medication: Medications can help relieve symptoms of mental health disorders, and psychiatrists monitor patients over time for side effects and effectiveness. Common medications include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications. 

TMS: Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is FDA-approved for individuals with treatment-resistant depression who haven’t responded to several trials of medication. It can also help people who want to avoid the side effects caused by traditional treatments.

Making the Decision to Consult a Psychiatrist 

Mental illness can have a ripple effect that spreads to every part of your life, making everyday tasks feel challenging and impacting your physical health. For example, people with depression are 40% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Adults with mental illness also have more than a 30% greater risk of substance use disorder.

When to See a Psychiatrist vs. Therapist 

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can diagnose and prescribe treatments. They have the knowledge and education to understand the biology behind many mental health conditions, which often makes psychiatrists the go-to recommendation to start your journey. 

Therapists are trained professionals, such as counselors, psychotherapists, and psychologists. They have extensive education in the mental health field, but they cannot write prescriptions for medications. Either profession can refer you to one of the other professions. For example, a psychiatrist may suggest you see a therapist as part of your treatment plan. Likewise, if you start out with a therapist and show an interest or need for medication, your therapist may refer you to a psychiatrist.

In addition to psychiatrists and therapists, other types of mental health professionals include: 

  • Psychologists hold doctoral degrees and can evaluate and diagnose in addition to providing therapy 
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who are trained to provide a wide range of mental health services, including prescribing psychiatric medications 
  • Clinicians and counselors are like therapists and have a master’s degree and training to provide therapeutic techniques 
  • Clinical social workers provide assessments and offer therapies in addition to providing case management and advocacy 
  • Certified peer specialists have experienced mental illness and received training and certification to help others recover with support and mentoring 

Understanding the Benefits of Consultation with a Psychiatrist 

Psychiatrists have a deep, profound understanding of the mind-body connection and the biology behind mental health and wellness. Seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression or another type of mental health condition ensures you get a comprehensive assessment. Psychiatrists look at your physical, emotional, and mental health and draw on their education and training to prescribe medications and administer various treatments.

Other mental health professionals can help with a wide range of issues, but psychiatrists have the training needed to help with more serious conditions. 

Symptoms Indicating the Need for a Psychiatric Evaluation 

Shame and fear of others viewing them differently can make some people reluctant to get help. However, with treatment, you can overcome the challenges you’re experiencing and learn how to get better — and stay that way. Some common reasons to see a psychiatrist include: 

  • Symptoms that interfere with daily life, such as lethargy, lack of focus, or increased isolation 
  • Prolonged feelings of sadness, emptiness, or excessive worry 
  • Extended feelings of failure, professional disillusionment, decreased satisfaction 
  • Traumatic life experiences, such as an assault or natural disaster 
  • Prescription medications that lose their effectiveness 
  • Family history of mental illness 
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep 
  • Increased use of alcohol and other substances 
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide 

The Psychiatric Evaluation Process 

The psychiatric evaluation process varies depending on your circumstances. During a consultation, the psychiatrist will perform a thorough assessment that typically takes 60 to 90 minutes. The process includes a complete physical history, history of any alcohol or drug use, and family mental health history. You will answer questions about your history of trauma and mental health symptoms. Your psychiatrist will determine if you have any aggressive behaviors, risk of suicide, and your overall mood and anxiety levels. 

Some of the items to provide your psychiatrist include: 

  • List of over-the-counter and prescription drugs you currently take 
  • List of any psychiatric medications you take now or took in the past 
  • Previous diagnoses and records from any prior psychiatric care 

Working with a Psychiatrist: What to Expect 

Although your psychiatrist should provide an open, supportive environment, it’s natural to feel apprehension about the choice to seek help. You may experience some uncomfortable moments and find yourself faced with questions that may feel intrusive. However, to get the maximum benefits from treatment, it’s essential to remain open and honest with your provider. It’s also important to remember that you are going to feel emotions, and that’s okay.

Working with your psychiatrist, you will devise a plan to help you get back to being yourself. This may include any number of treatments, used individually or together, based on your diagnosis. Your psychiatrist will create a treatment plan, which could include medication, therapy, additional medical or psychiatric testing such as blood work, and other therapies such as TMS or lifestyle changes.

Making an Informed Decision: When and Why to Consult a Psychiatrist for Mental Health 

Why go to a psychiatrist? Will a psychiatrist help me? If you’re like many people, these are questions you will ask yourself.

Ultimately, you don’t need to struggle alone. A psychiatrist can partner with you to get to the bottom of what you’re experiencing.

At Manuel Astruc, M.D., we provide everything from comprehensive education to medication management to innovative treatments for adults and children alike. We can diagnose and evaluate your condition and create a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs. We will walk beside you as you find your way out of the darkness and into the light. 

To learn more, visit us online or call 518-217-4875 to find out how we can help you or your loved one get better.