Tracy Coffman, MD, WVU Medicine psychiatrist, discusses some of the misconceptions about seeing a psychiatrist, medications for mental illness, and more.

Myth: A psychiatrist will ask you to lie on a couch and talk about your childhood.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, so your first visit probably won’t be that different than seeing any other type of doctor. While your experience will vary depending on the individual psychiatrist, you will spend the visit talking about the symptoms that led you to seek treatment. You’ll also be asked to answer questions about your medical history. If you’re seeking treatment due to a childhood event, you might be asked talk about it, but that’s definitely not the only thing you will discuss. Toward the end of the visit, your doctor will talk with you about a plan to address your concerns.

Myth: Medications are the only way to treat a mental illness.
Sometimes, mental health problems respond well to medication, and that is all that a person needs. However, we’ve learned that many mental health conditions respond best to a combination of treatments, such as medication and talk therapy. Some people won’t take medication at all. They’ll be treated with talk therapy, light therapy, exercise, or other treatments. Your psychiatrist will work with you to figure out your preferences and develop a plan that best suits your needs.

Myth: Once the symptoms of mental illness go away, you don’t need medication anymore.
Fact: This is a tough one because some people’s mental health problems do go away completely and never come back. Other people have to work on managing their mental health throughout their life, just like a person who has diabetes or high blood pressure. For some mental illnesses, taking medication – even when you’re doing well – is a good way to prevent the symptoms from coming back. If you have questions about how long you need to stay on medication, your doctor knows your history and can help you decide.

Myth: You just need to get over it. If you were stronger, you wouldn’t have this problem.
Fact: Having a mental illness doesn’t have anything to do with how strong or weak you are. Some of the strongest people I know have spent years battling a mental illness. We still don’t understand everything that happens in the brain to cause mental illnesses, but we are learning more about the contribution of neurotransmitters (chemicals that send messages in the brain), inflammation, genetics, and many other factors. Try to think of mental illnesses in the same way that you do about physical illnesses – you wouldn’t expect yourself to be able to just snap out of having the flu, right?

Myth: Your problem isn’t bad enough to see a psychiatrist.
Fact: Psychiatrists see people with a wide range of conditions – big and small. We welcome anyone with a mental health concern. It’s not unusual for us to see people who aren’t sure if they have a mental illness. Someone who has lost a loved one, for example, may not know if their symptoms are part of grief or part of depression. If you think seeing a psychiatrist could benefit you, I encourage you to give it a try.

Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE