Mental health and psychiatry FAQs

This page is for patients, family and carers and contains frequently asked questions about mental health care and psychiatry.

If you are in crisis and have hurt yourself or are thinking about hurting yourself:

  • call 999
  • go to A&E if you are able to
  • call your mental health crisis team

If the support you need is less urgent, you can also speak to your GP or mental health team.

You can also contact the following organisations if you need to speak to someone:

To see a psychiatrist, you will usually need a referral from your general practitioner (GP), in the same way you would with any other specialist.

Within the NHS, most referrals will go to the mental health team. Initially, you may be seen by a team member who is not a psychiatrist. If the team member feels that you ought to see a psychiatrist, they'll arrange an appointment for you.

Most private psychiatrists prefer a referral from your GP. Your GP may be able to recommend psychiatrists who practise privately.

Local private hospitals will sometimes advise you about this. Some psychiatrists may advertise in your local business directory.

If they have the title 'MRCPsych' (Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists) or ‘FRCPsych’ (Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists), this means that they are current members of the College.

The College cannot recommend or supply names of psychiatrists to act as expert witnesses.

Solicitors can search through the lists of psychiatrists that are registered with any of the following websites:

You can complain directly to your psychiatrist.

If you are unhappy with their response, you can complain to their employer, clinic or hospital. 

If the complaint is to report serious misconduct, you can complain to the General Medical Council (Tel: 0161 923 6602).  

The last step for dealing with unresolved complaints is to contact the Health Service Ombudsman (Tel: 0345 015 4033) who acts as a final arbitrator.

If your psychiatrist works in the private sector

You can complain to the clinic where the psychiatrist works. Again, in cases of professional misconduct, you can also contact the General Medical Council (Tel: 0161 923 6602).

Everyone is entitled to a second opinion.  

You need to ask your GP, or your psychiatrist, to refer you to another psychiatrist for a second opinion.

The College is not the disciplinary body for our members so we are not able to deal with complaints about psychiatrists.

You can write to or speak with your psychiatrist to tell them how you feel about your care and treatment.

Your hospital will have a complaints procedure. To make a complaint, contact either the Complaints Officer or the relevant Hospital Manager, or ask somebody to do this on your behalf.

If you have concerns about a hospital, care home or health service, you should contact the body which is responsible for the inspection, monitoring and regulation of health and social care in your area

A psychiatrist is a medically-qualified practitioner who will have spent 5-6 years training as a doctor.

They will then have worked as a doctor in general medicine and surgery for at least a year. They will then have had at least six years of further training in helping people with psychological problems.

What are a psychiatrist’s special skills?

All psychiatrists will learn how to:

  • assess a person's state of mind
  • use the “biopsychosocial” model of understanding. This emphasises the importance of a person's past experiences, family, culture, surroundings and work as well as any medical features.
  • diagnose a mental illness
  • use a range of psychological treatments
  • prescribe a range of medications
  • help a person recover.

As well as these 'core' skills, a psychiatrist will specialise and develop skills in working with the particular problems that affect different groups of people.


Psychologists have a degree in psychology. Chartered Clinical Psychologists are not usually medically-trained, but have undertaken a long and robust training following their psychology degree.

They are primarily concerned with the study of how people think, act, react and interact. For further information about psychology, visit the British Psychological Society website.


A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional who has had further specialist training in psychotherapy.

As well as listening and discussing important issues with you, the psychotherapist can suggest strategies for resolving problems and, if necessary, help you to change your attitudes and behaviour.

A mental health team

Mental Health Team is a group of mental health professionals who work together to help people with a wide range of mental health problems. The different professions all have different knowledge and skills which can be used to tackle problems together.

You can find out more about this topic in our resource on mental health services and teams in the community.

The College can't recommend psychiatrists, or provide a list of names. To find a psychiatrist, ask your GP or local hospital.

You can get lists of local GPs or hospitals from your pharmacist or on the NHS Choices website.

Not all psychiatrists are members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

You can search the Public Online Membership List to confirm whether or not a psychiatrist is a member of the College.

A qualified psychiatrist will have a medical degree. They will then have completed two years of Foundation Training and a further six years of specialty training within psychiatry.

To become a consultant psychiatrist, they also need to obtain a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), be fully registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and listed on their Specialist Register.

If you are worried about someone else's mental health, you should encourage them to go and see their GP.

If you are worried about someone who is very unwell and appears to be a risk to themselves or others, you can call 999 or NHS 111 (Tel: 111).

Further information about mental health problems and their treatment are available on our website.

We've produced information on being detained on a section in England and Wales. 

The information also includes links to organisations which provide information on being detained on a section on Scotland and Northern Ireland.

To request access to your health records, you must make a request in writing, or by email, to:

  • for GP records, your doctor.
  • for hospital records, the hospital's Records Manager.

The maximum fee charged is £10 for computer records, or £50 for copies of paper records, or a mixture of computer and paper records.  Your records are protected by the Data Protection Act 2018.