Approximately 40 million Americans take at least one psychiatric drug (antidepressants, anxiolytics, sedatives, hypnotics, antipsychotics, etc.).
Despite the fact that millions of Americans take and benefit from mental health medication, a lot of people are still unclear on who can and cannot prescribe it. This lack of information can hold them back from getting the treatment they need.
For those who don’t know who to talk to about prescribing psychiatric medication, the answers below can set the record straight.
What Types of Healthcare Professionals Can Prescribe Mental Health Medication?
Not all mental health professionals are qualified and licensed to prescribe psychotropic medications and other drugs. The following are 3 examples of professionals who can diagnose and treat mental health conditions with medication:
A psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor with training in psychiatry. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe medications to manage these conditions, and provide therapy.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to become a psychiatrist, an individual must earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and complete residency training in psychiatry.
A physician assistant (also known as a physician associate) is a mid-level health care provider. They haven’t undergone as much schooling as a physician, but they’re still able to carry out many of the same tasks, such as diagnosing illnesses, developing treatment plans, and prescribing medications.
To become a physician assistant, a person must earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field and accrue at least 1,000 hours of hands-on experience. Then, they must graduate from a physician assistant program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
A psychiatric nurse practitioner (also known as psychiatric nurses) must earn a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with an emphasis on psychiatry.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners are allowed to provide assessments, diagnose medical mental health conditions, and provide therapy. In many states, they can prescribe and monitor medications, as well.
Can a Therapist Prescribe Medication?
A therapist can only prescribe medication if they have one of the credentials mentioned above. According to Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas, a professional like a mental health counselor or social worker cannot prescribe medication, nor can they suggest it.
If a therapist or other mental health worker does think that a client could benefit from prescription medication, they will need to refer that client for an evaluation with another clinician who does have the proper qualifications.
Who Should I Ask to Prescribe Me Mental Health Medication?
If an individual thinks they need mental health medication, they should seek care. They can seek care from a primary care physician, a psychiatrist, a physician assistant, or a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
Any of these options can be helpful. This is because they either write a prescription themselves, or they can refer the patient to another provider for an evaluation. Thus, it all comes down to the training of the provider and the client’s preference.
How Do I Know if I Am Taking the Right Psychotropic Medication?
Some psychotropic medications, such as antidepressants, can take several weeks or up to 2 months to become effective. Because of this, a lot of people have a hard time determining whether or not their medications are worth it (or if they’re taking the right ones).
The easiest way to tell if a medication is working for a specific condition is to monitor one’s symptoms over time.
A patient’s physician or psychiatric nurse can give them a timeframe of when they should start to feel better. If, after that time frame has ended, the patient still isn’t noticing any improvements or has started to feel worse, that’s a sign they need to check in with their prescriber about taking a different dose or trying a new medication.
How Long Should I Take Mental Health Medication for?
Everyone’s experience with mental health medications and mental health conditions is unique. Because of this, it’s hard to say exactly how long one person might need to take their prescription.
According to this article from Harvard Medical School, most clinicians recommend sticking with a specific drug for at least 6-9 months before the patient can consider coming off of it or lowering their dose.
When treating mental health conditions, it’s important to be very cautious when making changes to medications. Patients shouldn’t stop taking these drugs on a whim and should always taper off under a professional’s supervision.
Should I Take Medication and Do Therapy at the Same Time?
Patients can definitely go through therapy (such as talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy) at the same time that they’re taking medication. In fact, the combination can often be more effective than medication alone.
Therapy and medication in conjunction are helpful for many mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction. For those who are taking medication for any of these conditions, therapy can improve results and help patients see results faster.
How Do I Find a Good Psychiatrist?
It can be difficult to find a good psychiatrist. Similarly, it can be difficulty to find a family therapist. In fact, it can be hard to find a good therapist of any kind. The following tips can help patients narrow down their search:
- Get referrals from friends, family, or medical professionals
- Research credentials
- Verify their license is up to date
- Check insurance coverage limits
- Read reviews from past patients
It’s okay if it takes a little while to find the right fit. Patients should be careful with choosing a psychiatrist. Further, patients should be choosy with choosing any doctor for any other medical condition.