Psychiatry (from the Greek for "medical treatment of the mind") is the medical specialty that deals with mental illness particularly behavioral disorders, personality disorders, cognitive disorders and perceptual disorders. Psychiatrists use a mixture of therapy and pharmaceuticals to treat patients. A specialist in the field is a psychiatrist.
Temporary fellow Dr. Kelly Benedict was also a specialist in psychiatry and had just finished her residency.
The term was coined in the early 19th century, although medical treatment of the mentally ill goes back to ancient times.
Psychiatrists generally start an examination with a full examination of a patient's mental status, as well as taking a case history. The patient may then be given a series of physical tests and/or psychological tests.
Mental illnesses are particularly difficult to diagnose as few have any definitive diagnostic criteria. As such, psychiatrists will obtain a diagnosis by comparing the patient's symptoms to such reference works as the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or the ICD (International Classification of Diseases).
In ancient times, mental illness was often seen to be the result of supernatural forces. However, by the 8th century C.E., specialized hospitals for persons with mental disorders were developed in the Arabic world and spread to Europe by the 13th century. But the 10th century, the study of such diseases started to be systematized by Arab physicians. By the 11th century, the importance of recognizing anxiety as part of mental illness by measuring a patient's pulse was noted. However, even up to the early 19th century, although more hospitals were developed to deal with such patients, treatment was often limited to palliative care.
Although the 19th century saw the start of applying the scientific method and modern medicine to mental health, for the next 150 years hospitals were essentially engaged in the stockpiling of the mentally ill as the populations of mental hospitals exploded from holding hundreds of people to hundreds of thousands. Although new theories were developed in the 19th century, there was very little systematic exploration or shared knowledge.
It was not until the early 20th century that psychiatry as we know it really started to be developed. Although asylums were still overflowing, new approaches such as psychotherapy and psychopharmacology started to be developed. The study of mental illness also became much more systematized and a common set of terms and diagnoses culminated in the first DSM.
By the mid-20th century, new approaches started to gain ground as some mental illnesses started to become treatable, particularly with new drugs like lithium. In addition, they asylum system was broken apart starting in the 1970s as patients became deinstitutionalized and started to be treated in the community or by general hospitals. Modern psychiatry draws from a large range of pharmaceuticals that can treat all but the most serious disorders, although side effects are often a problem.
There are several sub-specialties of psychiatry:
- Addiction psychiatry
- Biological psychiatry, looking at the biological processes that result in mental illness
- Child and adolescent psychiatry
- Community psychiatry, dealing with mental illness as a public health problem
- Cross-cultural psychiatry, dealing with issues that involve a particular culture
- Emergency psychiatry
- Forensic psychiatry, such as determining whether a person is fit to participate in a trial
- Geriatric psychiatry
- Liaison psychiatry, dealing with issues that arise between psychiatry and other medical specialties
- Military psychiatry, dealing with disorders that often arise in military service, such as PTSD
- Neuropsychiatry, dealing with issues of the nervous system that can result in mental illness
- Social psychiatry, dealing with issues of interpersonal and cultural context that arise with mental illness