There are several reasons for a person to see a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a doctor who treats mental illness. If a person has a mental illness that is causing them to suffer, they should get treatment. There are whole books that describe the symptoms of mental illnesses, but some of the simple things to look out for are common among most illnesses.
If your loved one has a sudden change in behavior, try to determine if there is a cause. A person who is sad about a death in the family does not have depression. A person who is sad all the time and has no positive outlook on life, who thinks about suicide, and who has behaviors that cause damage to themselves or others may have depression and should be examined by a psychiatrist.
People who cut themselves or who are anorexic or bulimic might be suffering from many different mental illnesses. This type of behavior is becoming more common among teenagers. People who drink too much or who take drugs to get high have a substance abuse disorder that should be treated by a doctor. It is sad, but in our society most substance abusers end up dealing with the police, who usually refer them to the legal system for prosecution instead of to the medical system for treatment.
If a person describes hearing voices that are not there or sees things that others do not see they are hallucinating. Hallucination is a symptom of major mental illness like schizophrenia or depression. People who think others are out to get them or are following them in some way are suffering from paranoia and need to be looked at. If a person displays ritualized and repetitious behaviors of a compulsive nature they may have OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. There are medicines that a psychiatrist can prescribe that affectively treat all these disorders.
Mental illness is the cause of a lot of suffering for people who are affected by it. It is best to try to explain to these people that they have a problem and they can get help. If a person can be made to understand that you are trying to help them, they can be voluntarily checked into the mental ward of a hospital. Involuntary commission to a mental ward generally requires a court order and is a lot more complicated. Be prepared for a lot of expense if you do not have insurance that covers mental illness. In emergency cases, where the alternative to treatment might be suicide or incarceration for violent behavior, it is best to remain calm. You should always treat the person suffering from the illness as kindly and gently as possible and not start conflicts or become argumentative. This can be hard when a person is freaking out.
If your loved one is having a psychiatric emergency such as threatening suicide, or they are causing a disturbance for no apparent reason, they should be calmed down as much as possible and be taken to the nearest emergency room for referral to the psychiatric ward. There are various state agencies that can help with treatment expense, such as county departments of community mental health, so don’t be intimidated by the cost if you have no insurance. If the person is violent or threatens your life you may have to call the police and get them involved, but it is best if this can be avoided.
Non-emergency problems such as mild depression, neuroses, phobias, etc can be treated by making an appointment with a psychiatrist. Get a referral from your family physician. It is not for you to determine if your loved one has a mental problem, but if you notice they are being affected and suspect they might have some kind of problem, it is best to get a psychiatrist’s opinion. Unfortunately, character flaws like a person being a jerk or abusive are not things a psychiatrist will treat. If you are honestly concerned that a person you love is suffering from some problem that a psychiatrist can treat, by all means convince them to seek help.