Is There A Doctor I Can See For Help With Depression?

Medically reviewed by Kayce Bragg, LPCS, LAC, LCPC, LPC, NCC
Updated May 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 21 million adults in the United States reported at least one major depressive episode in 2020. It’s one of the most common mental health disorders. Effective treatment is available, however. If you’re experiencing depression and are ready to find support, here are a few things you should know about connecting with the right mental health professional for you.

What is depression?

The way depression manifests can vary somewhat from person to person, but some common symptoms include apathy, hopelessness, losing interest in previously pleasurable activities, mood swings, irritability, social isolation, changes in sleep, appetite, weight, or an inability to concentrate. Remember, clinical depression is a diagnosable disorder that’s generally longer lasting and more severe than simply feeling sad. In some cases, this mental illness can lead to undesirable behaviors such as alcohol or substance use or even self-harm.

How to get diagnosed

If you believe you may be experiencing depression, you may want to consult with your primary care physician first. They may want to conduct tests to investigate whether there could be underlying health conditions or other contributing factors to your symptoms. Depression can be a common symptom of several medical conditions. They may also be able to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for additional diagnoses or mental health treatment. For children experiencing the symptoms of depression, family members can start by contacting their pediatrician.
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Next step: Choosing a mental health provider

Whether you get a referral from your primary care physician or seek out a mental health professional yourself, there are a few different types of providers you might choose from. These mental health professionals have either a master’s or doctoral degree and are held to practice standards set by the American Psychiatric Association. When it comes to “depression doctors,” here are a few of the most common options.

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained to diagnose and treat mental health disorders, from anxiety and depressive disorders to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They may run physical tests, conduct evaluations, and then create a treatment plan accordingly, which may include psychotherapy, medication, or both. Typically, psychiatrists are the only psychology doctors who can prescribe medications for treating depression and other mental health conditions. This is because they have completed medical school as part of their education. A psychiatrist may explain the potential side effects of any medications you are prescribed for depression.
  • Psychologists are not medical doctors, but they are trained to assist individuals with mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorder. Their primary approach is usually to focus on psychology and using evidence-based practices to shift thoughts and behavior through talk therapy.
  • Therapists are not medical doctors, and are also trained in assisting individuals with mental health challenges through counseling and talk therapy. While all psychologists are therapists, therapists are only psychologists if they also have a doctoral degree.

What type of help do I need?

Connecting with a therapist or psychologist is a common starting point for people who may be experiencing a major depressive episode and want to seek the help of a mental health professional. Research suggests that talk therapy can be an effective treatment for depression and other conditions, as well as contribute toward preventing relapses, so reaching out to one of these two types of professionals is generally a good first step. If they believe you would benefit from connecting with a psychiatrist, they may suggest this and even provide a referral, as there are several medications that may help manage the symptoms of severe depression.

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Where to find a doctor for depression

If you have medical insurance and it covers mental health, you might start your search for the right mental health provider at your health insurance company. They may be able to provide you with a list of providers that they cover. If you do not have health insurance or mental health services are not covered, community-based organizations in your area may offer financial support or lower-cost resources for those in need. Free mental health clinics may also be available in some areas, and some providers may offer a sliding scale for mental health services.

If you can afford treatment but simply don’t know where to look, doing an internet search for “therapist near me” can give you a starting point. You can see if the location of a particular provider’s office is convenient for you, learn about their professional background, read reviews from other clients, and then contact them to learn more about pricing and availability.

Finding a virtual doctor 

If you prefer to meet with a mental health provider virtually instead of in person, there are options available for this too. An online therapy platform like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who meets your needs based on a questionnaire about your situation. While BetterHelp does not accept insurance, rates for seeing a mental health professional through the platform are typically comparable to most co-pays. Since research suggests that virtual therapy offers similar benefits to traditional, in-person methods, it can be a more available, cost-effective option for depression treatment for those who prefer this format.

What to look for in a provider

Any provider you meet with should hold the appropriate licenses for their particular state, which signifies to patients like you that they’ve completed the necessary training to do their job well. All therapists on a platform like BetterHelp, for example, are licensed, trained, experienced, and accredited psychologists (PhD / PsyD), marriage and family therapists (MFT), clinical social workers (LCSW), or licensed professional counselors (LPC). If you’re unsure of whether the mental health professional you’re interested in working with holds the proper certifications, it’s your right to ask.

It’s also important to choose both mental health professionals and a format you feel comfortable with. If you prefer either in-person or online sessions, prioritize that. If you would prefer a therapist who is your same gender, is within a certain age range, or has experience with certain types of situations, you’re entitled to prioritize those things. If you require medications as part of your treatment plan, then you can meet with someone who can prescribe and manage your medicine. You may even meet with a few different providers before you find the one that fits you best. The more comfortable you feel opening up to your mental health professional, the more likely you may be to receive the treatment and care you deserve.

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What to expect in your sessions

The content of a session with a mental health provider may vary somewhat based on their title. A session with a psychiatrist may look different than one with a psychologist, for example. A psychiatrist may inquire about your medical history and ask you questions about how you’re feeling and the challenges you may be facing.

A psychologist, therapist, or social worker will likely focus only on the latter. They may ask you to tell them about yourself, your life, your symptoms, your goals, and what’s been bothering you. Once you’ve been working together a while, they may also provide you with “homework” from time to time: things to think about or practice in your life before your next session.

The importance of trust and safety

Building a relationship with a mental health professional is like any other relationship in that it involves trust being built over time. Your provider should be a good listener and should be non-judgmental, and able to create a space where you feel safe and comfortable expressing your feelings. If not, it can be difficult for trust to form which can impede the therapeutic process. In a case like these, it’s in your best interest to continue your search by seeking a different provider.

If you’re nervous going into an appointment, you can talk about this with your therapist. They’ll likely try and make you as comfortable as possible so you can get the most out of the appointment and your ongoing treatment process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way, either. A therapy session is your time, and it should suit your needs.

Takeaway

Experiencing symptoms of depression can make you feel alone, but you should know that there’s help and resources available to assist you through this challenge. In addition to reaching out to your support system of friends and family members, you may find it helpful to speak with a licensed therapist, whether in person or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people with depression. Take the first step toward relief from depression and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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