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When you suffer mental severe distress it can feel like you are all alone. No-one understands you. No-one else is feeling this pain. There is no-one to talk to. Your future seems to retract, to pass, to disappear.
As your mental health expert, your psychiatrist can be the most important person you see about what you are experiencing. Psychiatrists can interview you, offer diagnosis, prescribe medication and, in some cases, offer a firm prognosis.
When you are suffering the early stages of mental distress, it can be very important to receive that diagnosis – it helps you put a name to what you are suffering, and helps with expectations of medication, prognosis and healing.
Unfortunately, however, there are very few bulk-billing psychiatrists, and many people must wait inordinate time before being seen, if they are seen at all. This is also a difficult political issue – how do we make it more welcome for psychiatrists to bulk-bill? There seem to be two ways – vastly increase the bulk-billing rate for psychiatrists or enforce by law that psychiatrists see a set minimum of bulk-billing clients.
But say for now you are looking for psychiatrists and costs are not a major issue. What makes a good psychiatrist?
I am not speaking here as a representative of any psychiatric or psychological organisation, and my opinions are my own, not those of One Door. But I have seen different psychiatrists on my recovery journey, and I think I can offer a small amount of insight.
First of all, you must find a personality that fits with yours. This is not a medical issue, but a personal one. You need someone who understands you, communicates in a way that you understand, and respects your priorities. Unfortunately, this may take some time, as you see different psychiatrists to find a “fit”.
If you can find a psychiatrist who specialises in your area of illness, this is also a good thing. Some psychiatrists specialise in psychotic disorders, some in mood disorders, and so forth.
Although we take this for granted, a psychiatrist must also know their med’s. I think this is more than knowing the simple diagnosis-medication relationship. It is a knowledge of impact, side-effects, and relative strengths needed for different degrees of mental distress. So, for example, the psychiatrist I originally saw would try a relatively small amount of meds and then, if there was no clear response, he would push the dosage much higher. You could say there is a style, an art to medication.
Your psychiatrist must also have compassion. I think it is important that psychiatrists not be self-focused; they must truly care for the well-being of their clients.
Finally, a psychiatrist must have wisdom. Very often, as you move through life, you come across forks in the road; different paths; different challenges and opportunities. Having a psychiatrist onside who can help make important decisions on the basis of their close knowledge of you and your life is vital.
And of course, it must be someone you like.
Dr. Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health firstname.lastname@example.org.
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