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Psychiatrists assess your mental and physical symptoms, and work with you to develop a treatment plan. Psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in mental health. They can prescribe medication and provide psychological therapy. A GP can give you a referral to see one.

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed extra training to specialise in mental health. In Australia, this means they have completed a six-year medical degree at university, and another six years of training specialising in psychiatry. Psychiatrists understand physical and mental illness and can prescribe medication.

What does a psychiatrist do?

Psychiatrists assess all of your mental and physical symptoms. They might make a diagnosis and work with you to develop a plan for your treatment and recovery. They provide psychological treatment, prescribe medications and do procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Should I see a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists specialise in complex mental health issues. You might see a psychiatrist if you’re experiencing severe depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or other personality or emotional disorders.

No matter what the reason, it’s important to find a psychiatrist you like and trust. Not every psychiatrist is going to be a good fit, and it can take a few tries before you find someone you connect with.

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

The primary difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that a psychiatrist can prescribe and monitor medication, while a psychologist delivers psychological therapies. Some people might see both a psychiatrist and a psychologist.

How do I make an appointment?

The best place to start is with your GP, who can provide you with a Mental Health Treatment Plan and refer you to a psychiatrist. You'll normally have to book a time to see a psychiatrist, but if things are desperate, tell them it's urgent and they might be able to clear a spot or send you to someone who is available right away.

Like other doctors and mental health professionals, psychiatrists are required to keep what they talk about with their patients confidential, unless they’re worried that the patient is at risk of harming themself or someone else, or a court orders them to share confidential information. It's always a good idea to talk to your psychiatrist about what is and isn’t private, so you're both on the same page and you can feel comfortable about opening up to them. Your age can also play a role in making decisions about medication, determining what information is confidential, and whether your family needs to be involved in your treatment.

What’s it like to see a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist should start your first session by talking about your confidentiality rights. They’ll then complete a detailed personal assessment by asking you lots of questions about what’s going on in your life, as well as details about your background and history. By gathering this information, they’ll be able to come up with a plan for you that may involve therapy sessions, medication, or both. Medication is usually most effective when combined with psychological therapy.

You don't have to agree to start taking medication. That decision is yours alone, or it may also involve your parents. You’re also welcome to get another opinion from a different psychiatrist. Before making a decision about taking medication, you should discuss with your psychiatrist or GP what the medication is meant to do, and whether it has any potential side effects. Check out our page on medication for more information about this.

How much does it cost?

A psychiatrist working in a public hospital is free of charge. Private psychiatrists usually ask you to pay for each visit. Ask them what this will cost, and how much you'll get back from Medicare. Bulk billing psychiatrists exist in private practice as well, which means that you just have to bring your Medicare card and won’t have to worry about payment. You can find out your Medicare number by ringing Medicare on 132 011 or by looking at your family’s Medicare card. Once you're 15 years old, you can get your own card.

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