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Psychiatry and how it can improve your mental health

Dr. Patty Gibson, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s medical director for Behavioral Health, discusses the different providers available to improve your mental health.

Whether you’re experiencing mental fog, difficult emotions, long-term anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder, your mental health matters. Mental wellness is integral to maintaining our overall well-being. It is as essential as staying physically healthy. D

Dr. Patty Gibson, medical director for Behavioral Health, who is a mental health provider
Dr. Patty Gibson

An estimated 1 in 5 adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, a group of disorders that are some of the most common health conditions in the country. Many people experience depression and anxiety. In Arkansas, nearly 33% of adults and almost 29% of children ages 3-17 have reported experiencing mental, emotional, or behavioral challenges.

Many people turn to a specialist to help understand and cope with challenging emotions, thoughts, or behaviors, especially when they become too difficult to manage. For example, imagine you have been feeling very sad lately. It may be hard to get out of bed. You may lose interest in things you normally enjoy, or you might feel hopeless. It is normal to have feelings like this sometimes. But if it is so severe or continues for so long that it affects your ability to do normal, everyday activities, it can be helpful to talk to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional.

Mental health providers

There are several kinds of professionals with different educational backgrounds and specialties who have training in treating mental health. They look at symptoms a person may have – including things like anxiety, worry, mood swings, and trouble concentrating – to determine the best way to help.

  • Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in mental health. Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, they can prescribe medication to their patients. Just as a person can be prescribed medication for high blood pressure or allergies, a person can also be prescribed medication to help reduce symptoms of mental health issues or prevent the return of these symptoms. They may also refer patients to a therapist for more frequent and additional support. Many people see both a psychiatrist and a therapist.
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are nurses with a graduate degree in nursing specializing in mental health. Because of their medical and mental health training, they can prescribe medication.
  • Psychologists are people with a doctoral degree – either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. – who have gone to graduate school and received training on the mind and behavior of humans. Some psychologists do mental health research, and others work directly with patients to address their mental health concerns.
  • Therapists or counselors, often used interchangeably, have studied social work, counseling, or clinical psychology and have passed an examination to become licensed mental health practitioners.

Overall, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in deciding which mental healthcare professional will help you the most. Talk with your doctor to decide what type of practitioner may work best for your unique circumstances.

My role as a psychiatrist

Throughout my 20 years as a practicing psychiatrist, I approach care by looking at each patient as a whole person, taking into consideration their family’s mental health history, other medical conditions they may have, and experiences they have had in the past that may impact how they deal with emotions and thoughts.

While talk therapy can be beneficial for many patients, others might require medication to treat their symptoms. When determining what kind of medication to prescribe, I consider potential side effects and look at the other medications they are taking. Sometimes, the first medication a patient tries does not have the results we are hoping for, so we will try either a different dosage or a different medication. I work closely with my patients to ensure that whatever treatment we land on is a good fit for their needs and overall well-being.

At Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we want to ensure that people who need access to mental healthcare know how to get it. Sometimes, people are shy or embarrassed to talk about their emotions. One way to Normalize the Conversation around mental health and get connected to help is to address it in the same way we address physical health. Talking to a doctor about your feelings and emotions should be as simple as talking to them about knee pain or headaches.

How can you find a psychiatrist?

Arkansas Blue Cross is committed to making mental healthcare more accessible to Arkansans. We provide access to a network of mental health providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists. Remember, many Arkansans experience mental health challenges from time to time. It is important to know that you are not alone and that there are resources that can help you Take Good Care and connect with behavioral health services.

If you are our member and you think you would benefit from talking to a doctor about your mental health, find a psychiatrist or other mental health specialist near you by exploring your options on the Blueprint Portal.

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