Shopping for a new family doctor or primary care provider can be a tough and emotionally draining process. It takes time to sort through the providers who are in your network, who have the credentials and ratings you're interested in, and with whom you can see yourself developing a rapport and a sense of trust over time. For those who are struggling with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, the thought of jumping through these hoops to find a psychiatrist or psychologist can seem overwhelming. If you have a current primary care provider at a family practice, can he or she be the doctor to help you treat a mental health condition?
When Sticking With Your Primary Care Provider Is Best
Regardless of whether you want to seek out a mental health specialist in the future, starting your journey at your PCP's office is usually a sure bet. Because your family doctor has the best handle on your unique medical history, he or she is in a good position to advise you on your next steps or help you rule out treatment options that seem unlikely to be effective based on how you've responded to other medications and therapies in the past.
Furthermore, confiding sensitive mental health concerns is a nerve-wracking process that can be made easier by speaking to someone who you're certain won't pass judgment. You'll be less likely to hold back information you'd generally be reluctant to give to a stranger, providing your family doctor with the clearest picture into your current state.
And primary care physicians, while not generally trained in the intricacies of mental health diagnoses, can diagnose and treat conditions like anxiety and depression. These two conditions are by far the most common mental health disorders, affecting nearly one in every five American adults at any given time. This means that you're highly unlikely to be your physician's only patient dealing with such a disorder. The frequency with which anxiety and depressive disorders are diagnosed also means that these conditions are usually extensively covered at required continuing education seminars.
When You Should Seek Out a Licensed Mental Health Therapist
While your family doctor can get you started with certain therapies, medications, or treatments for conditions like anxiety, mild depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, there are some conditions that require a specialist to diagnose and treat. These include schizophrenia and psychotic disorders. Because these categories of mental health conditions usually require lifelong treatment and can pose a danger to the patient and those around him or her, making an appointment with a psychologist who specializes in schizoaffective disorders is the quickest route to treatment.