Which mental health expert should I reach out to for help?

The kind of mental health professional you should seek out depends on the issues you’re struggling with and how bad they are.

Why do people go to see mental health experts?

When we’re feeling sick, we know to go see a doctor. Just like our body, our mind can also feel sick. Everyone has something they’re struggling with and sometimes those struggles become too much to handle alone.

Even though mental health issues may be harder to see, it’s just as important to seek out professional help from experts who can determine what’s wrong and help you get better.

Mental health experts are trained to:

  • Assess your mental wellbeing
  • Diagnose the issues you’re having
  • Treat the problem through therapy and/or medication

There are several types of mental health experts and who you go see may depend on what you’re experiencing and how severe the issue is. 

What’s a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors. They are able to diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe medication. 

Psychiatrists go through medical school to learn about how psychological problems affect both the body and mind. They also know what kinds of drugs can help treat different types of mental illnesses. 

People go to psychiatrists when they’re suddenly experiencing symptoms like hallucinations or panic attacks, or for ongoing issues like hopelessness, eating disorders, stress, etc.

As doctors, psychiatrists have the power to perform a full range of laboratory, genetic, and behavioural tests to get to the root of the problem. If you get diagnosed with a mental illness, your psychiatrist can prescribe medication that may help you better manage your illness.  

Psychiatrists sometimes see their patients on a regular basis, and other times just to follow-up to see if their treatment plan is working. 

What’s a psychologist?

Psychologists have advanced degrees in human behaviour, and can sometimes be referred to as “doctors” if they have a PhD. They can test for, diagnose, and treat psychological disorders. 

Psychologists become experts by researching psychological problems and behaviour dysfunctions, and through clinical practice. They’re trained to do psychological testing and evaluation, as well as suggest treatment and prevention of mental health conditions.

People go to psychologists for support during a crisis, but they also help prevent people from relapsing and give their patients skills they can use to cope and care for themselves better. 

Psychologists assess and help people manage a range of disorders. In addition to mental health, they can offer support for dependency or drugs or alcohol. 

Many people seek out psychologists when they’re going through a crisis or to get a diagnosis for an ongoing issue, and continue seeing them at least until they’ve learned skills to manage with their mental health issues on their own. 

What’s a psychotherapist?

Psychotherapists are healthcare professionals trained to perform talk-based therapy to help people improve themselves, their relationships, and their problems. 

Aside from registered psychotherapists, healthcare professionals who can provide psychotherapy in Ontario are:

  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Nurses
  • Occupational therapists 
  • Physicians and surgeons

People seek out psychotherapists as individuals who need to manage their mental wellbeing, or as families or in groups to get support for common experiences. 

Through talk therapy and by developing a therapeutic relationship, psychotherapists bring about positive change in their patients’ lives. They help them regulate their emotions, moods, feelings, and thoughts. They help them cope with past trauma, gain better communication skills, and improve relationships with others. 

People often see psychotherapists on a regular basis to improve the quality of their day-to-day lives. 

How do I get support from a mental health expert?

Who you reach out to depends on what you’re going through.

If you experienced a life event that’s making you feel bad, like losing your job or moving or a breakup, or if you notice that you’ve been feeling extremely sad or stressed lately, you may want to explore talk therapy with a psychotherapist. 

If you think the issue is more serious and/or the issue keeps recurring in your life, you may want to see a psychologist so they can assess your behaviour and come up with a treatment plan if you get a diagnosis. 

If the symptoms of your mental health issues are severe enough that you’re considering medication to help you get by, then you should reach out to a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrists are doctors and therefore covered by OHIP, the provincial health plan, but there are often long waiting lists to see them. Many insurances cover visits to psychologists or psychotherapists (including social workers).

Many community organizations and campuses offer free mental health services as well. 

If you’re experiencing a crisis and need immediate support, please call a local distress centre or crisis helpline, or go to a hospital. You may also call 911.