California Psychiatric Association Documents
Psychiatry: Medicine's Newest Revolution
The Art and Science
Diagnosing and Treating Mental Disorders
Thanks to new discoveries in genetics, modern brain research and advances
in psychiatry, mental illness is no longer the frightening mystery it once
One in five Americans will suffer at least one form of mental illness in
his or her lifetime. Among the most common illnesses are depression, anxiety,
panic and compulsive disorders. At least two million Americans suffer from
schizophrenia, the mental illness usually causing the greatest disability.
Medical science, however, has made momentous advances in diagnosing and
treating these mental disorders. Today we know that the most serious mental
illnesses have a biological basis similar to other serious physical illnesses
such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure.
Most serious mental illnesses have a biological basis.
Medical breakthroughs over the last decade have provided physicians with
new understanding of the biological basis for most serious mental illnesses.
Two genes responsible for manic-depressive illness have been discovered
on the same chromosome that carries the genes for diabetes and hemophilia.
Researchers may have found a gene linked to schizophrenia. And, using computerized
brain imaging techniques, physicians can show chemical abnormalities in
the brains of those suffering from schizophrenia and other mental disorders.
We now know that many illnesses manifested by psychological symptoms are
actually the result of physical disorders. Depression, nervousness or sadness
can be caused by strokes, thyroid disease, other endocrine disorders, auto-immune
disease or tumors. While memory loss and confusion can also be caused by
many different medical conditions, we know that some mental symptoms may
be caused by prescription side effects or drug interactions.
Because of such breakthroughs, many of yesterday's psychological mysteries
are today being treated medically and with success.
Many illnesses manifested by psychological symptoms are actually
the result of physical disorders.
AT THE HEART OF THE ISSUE
We have moved beyond the dark ages in care for the mentally ill. Just
as leeches and "bleeding" gave way to modern medical care, treatment
for mental illness has moved on to modern psychiatry.
The brain, like the heart, can be affected by physical, emotional, social
and behavioral influences like the heart, the human brain is a vital organ
whose illnesses can be successfully treated.
Changes in lifestyle and behavior often may
provide relief from the symptoms of mental illness, just as they can with
diseases of the heart. And, increasingly, sophisticated medicines can end
the suffering for most mental and heart patients so that many return to
normal, productive and rewarding lives.
The brain, like the heart, can be affected by physical, emotional,
social and behavioral influences.
YOUR PSYCHIATRIST IS KEY
Psychiatrists are the only health care specialists with the training,
the qualifications and the experience to fully understand, diagnose and
treat mental illness.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors, graduates of four-year medical schools
They complete not only a medical internship in a hospital setting for one
year, but also three or more years in an approved hospital-based psychiatric
residency program to become specialists in disorders of the brain and mind.
There are many limited-license, non-medical
mental health practitioners such as social workers, who have two years of
post graduate training, and psychologists, who generally hold non-medical
doctoral degrees. These practitioners provide therapy for people who are
having emotional, interpersonal or family problems.
Only psychiatrists are fully qualified to identify the source of the
problem and develop appropriate treatment decisions from the broadest range
of options psychotherapy, lifestyle or behavior changes, further medical
tests, a prescription for medicines or a combination of treatments.
Only psychiatrists are fully qualified to identify the problem
and develop appropriate treatment
Today's psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment
of mental illness, much like a cardiologist treats heart disease or an internist
Only the psychiatrist is qualified to assure that what appear to be "psychological
problems" are not actually the manifestation of an underlying medical
While various forms of psychotherapy still play a fundamental role in
the treatment of many patients, a modern psychiatrist will also be found
reviewing medical records, examining patients, analyzing laboratory reports,
or writing a prescription for medicine.
The exciting scientific discoveries of the last decade and the specialized
training of modern psychiatry have combined to change the face of mental
Today's psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes
in the treatment of mental illness.