So you've decided you need to see someone for your depression symptoms. Now what?
Your first visit should be to your family doctor for a thorough checkup. There are several medical conditions that can cause depression symptoms, such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, female hormonal changes and thyroid conditions. In addition, several medications may have depression as a side-effect. If your doctor does not find any of these factors as a cause of your depression, you may then be referred to a mental health professional.
It is very important - especially if this is your first time seeing someone for depression - that you obtain a referral. Your family doctor may mean well in offering to prescribe you an antidepressant, but he is not the best qualified doctor to treat depression. He cannot offer you psychotherapy nor is he experienced in the nuances of prescribing psychotropic medications.
Psychiatry is very much an art rather than a science. Treating depression is not quite a simple as giving someone a prescription for Zoloft and sending them on their way. Some will need several trials of different medications to find one that best relieves their symptoms. Some will need more than one medication to counteract side-effects or boost positive effects. Still others might benefit from adding psychotherapy to the mix. In addition, you may have a completely different disorder. Bipolar disorder is one such disorder which may be initially misdiagnosed as depression, but requires a very different course of treatment.
There will be a tendency for some new patients to visit a counselor or psychologist for their initial evaluation rather than a psychiatrist. This can be beneficial for many, but for others it is not enough. Only a psychiatrist is a medical doctor and therefore able to prescribe medications. If your depression stems from a chemical imbalance, talk therapy will not be sufficient to treat you. It is best to make your initial visit to a psychiatrist, who can both prescribe medications and offer you psychotherapy if it is needed. This two pronged approach of medication and talk therapy is often the most beneficial to patients.
Although your psychiatrist is qualified to offer you psychotherapy services, do not be surprised if he refers you to a second, non-medical professional for your therapy while he concentrates on fine-tuning your medications. There is some debate within the psychiatric community as to whether the role of psychiatrist as a talk therapist has become outdated as we learn more about the biological basis of depression and mental illness. Some argue that therapy can be left to the psychologists while the psychiatrist concentrates on the complexities of the patient's medical care. At the present time, however, psychotherapy is a part of the psychiatrist's training and he is fully qualified to offer it to patients if he so chooses.
The most important thing to remember about seeking depression treatment, however, is simply to speak up and ask. Depression is not a sign of weakness or laziness. It is a sign that something is out of balance. With proper treatment, you can feel well again.