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Your first visit with a psychiatrist

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is general information that Is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified mental health professional. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Seeing a new provider can be a stressful experience. Sharing personal information with someone you just met, even if it’s a mental health professional, can be overwhelming. Knowing what to expect can help make it less stressful. In this article, I discuss my approach toward a psychiatric intake visit. Keep in mind that there will be variation between different psychiatrists. Yet, most psychiatrists generally cover the topics below.

Let’s start with the similarities between a primary care intake visit and a psychiatric intake visit. The purpose of both types of intake visits is to gather appropriate information about your medical history and your current symptoms. You will fill out paperwork prior to your intake appointment and answer questions about your medical and family history. At the end of each type of visit, you will discuss diagnostic impressions and treatment options.

Psychiatric intake visits deviate from primary care intake visits by focusing on your mental health. You will be asked about your mental health history, including prior diagnoses and treatment. Since substances, like alcohol, can negatively impact a person’s mental health, you will also be asked about your prior and current substance use. In addition, social aspects of your life can significantly impact your mental health so your psychiatrist may also ask about important relationships and experiences.

In terms of current symptoms, you can be asked about problems with anxiety, depression, and mood fluctuations. Psychiatrists are not just looking if these symptoms are present, but also how they impact your life. Psychiatrists want to know how these symptoms impact your relationships, school/work, and physical health.

Lastly, an important part of a psychiatrist’s job is to asses for safety. Suicide can be preventable so psychiatrists ask about suicide risk factors, including a prior history of suicide attempts and access to firearms. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017 the United States had a total of 47,173 deaths due to suicide with about half, 23,854 deaths, due to firearms.

Along the lines of safety, it is also important to know that information you share with your psychiatrist is private and can’t be shared without your permission per the health insurance portability and accountability act (HIPPA). However, there are exceptions. For example, psychiatrists would share relevant information in cases where there is an immediate safety concern, such as suicide or violence to others. Also psychiatrists are mandated reporters of child and elderly abuse.

While it can be daunting to meet a new psychiatrist, the purpose of the psychiatric intake visit is generally the same a primary care intake visit. The goal is to gather information about how your symptoms impact your life. This can help determine treatment and ultimately help you feel better.


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