Professional help is available in many forms

There are various professionals involved in mental health work. Perhaps most closely associated with mental health issues in the public mind is the psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has received additional training in mental health problems. A term that is often confused with psychiatrist is that of psychologist. A psychologist is somebody who has training in matters relating to the workings of the mind (and this therefore includes, but is not limited to, mental health matters). However, a psychologist is not likely to be medically trained and is therefore likely to focus on therapeutic approaches other than medical treatment. In addition, there are psychiatric nurses who offer a range of help to people with mental health problems. This ranges from providing nursing support to psychiatrists and their patients to acting in a role of therapist in their own right. For example, many psychiatric nurses are also trained counsellors. In addition, there are counsellors who do not have nurse training and will therefore not offer the broader range of supportive measures that nurses do but will, none the less, have a valuable role to play in many cases. In addition, there are social workers who often play an important role in helping people with mental health problems to face the challenges that they encounter on a day-to-day basis. Social workers are, for the most part, ‘professional problem-solvers’, and so they occupy a variety of roles in helping people with mental health problems to deal with their situation. Some social workers (known as ‘Approved Social Workers’ or ASWs) also have a role to play in those circumstances in which it becomes necessary to consider a person being admitted to a psychiatric hospital or unit for their own safety or the safety of others. However, the group of people who play a very important role for the majority of people with mental health problems is the general practitioner. It is often through the GP that mental health problems come to light. In many ways, therefore, GPs act as a focal point of the mental health system. This is not an exhaustive list, as there are various other people who can be very valuable in dealing with mental health issues. Where mental health problems manifest themselves in the workplace, it is often the Occupational Health Unit that will be the first port of call for many. Others, however, will enlist the help of an EAP (Employment Assistance Programme) who also often have much to offer when it comes to dealing with mental health matters. In addition to professional helpers, there are various voluntary organisations that play a very important role in tackling mental health problems. MIND, the National Association for Mental Health, is a very well-established organisation that has built up a wealth of experience and expertise over the years. While this may be a bewildering array of professionals and volunteers involved in mental health issues, at the end of the day the important thing is that you ‘plug into’ this system of support whenever you need to. You should not attempt to deal with complex and sensitive mental health problems unsupported. This could lead to problems for the person with the mental health problems and for you as well.

Dr Neil Thompson                        

Neil’s website and blog are at

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