The first step in treating a mental disorder is recognizing that something is not right. The second step is getting help. These two steps may in fact be the hardest part of the entire healing process. Once you seek help from a qualified health care provider, a correct diagnosis can be made and proper treatment can be given to help you get back on track.
Early recognition and treatment of a mental illness will offer the greatest chance of recovery and the earlier you seek help the greater the chance that recurrences can be prevented.
Once you decide to seek help for your mental health, start with your primary doctor. He or she can evaluate you to make sure that medication or another illness is not the cause of your symptoms. If the symptoms are not caused by an underlying physical illness, your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health care professional -- someone trained in treating mental health issues.
Who Treats Mental Illness?
Health care providers in many different environments and specialties are trained to identify the presence of a mental disorder, including:
Primary care physician: Doctors are primarily skilled in medical health care but do have some training in treating mental or psychiatric problems. Physicians will recommend specialized care for patients with more than mild symptoms of a mental illness.
Physician assistant (PA): These caregivers are trained to identify symptoms of mental illness in patients and have some training in treating mental or psychiatric disorders under the supervision of a physician.
Nurse practitioner: These people are registered nurses (RNs) with added nursing training and some training in treating mental or psychiatric problems. Many patients see PAs or nurse practitioners instead of a doctor in rural or underserved areas.
Psychiatrist: These are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. Psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe drugs as part of their treatment regimen and are also trained in psychotherapy, a form of "talking" therapy.
Psychologist: These are doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) experts in psychology and are trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing. Psychologists are not medically trained and therefore not licensed to prescribe drugs to treat mental illnesses except in several states where prescribing privileges have been extended to psychologists by legislative act.
Social worker: These are specialists who often help to provide counseling services and social service needs to disadvantaged individuals and those with a psychiatric illness. Social workers are trained to recognize mental illness and conduct psychotherapy
Psychiatric nurse specialists: These are registered nurses (RNs) who are educated in psychiatric nursing and specialize in treating mental or psychiatric illnesses.