If your battle with anxiety or depression has finally reached a tipping point, driving you to seek help before you engage in further self-destructive or harmful behavior, you may find yourself at a loss when it comes to taking that first step. Although your primary care physician (PCP) can provide you with  treatment information or even prescribe an antidepressant at your initial visit, you may wonder whether you'll be able to receive the care you need from a doctor who has not been specifically trained in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Read on to learn more about the advantages (and disadvantages) of beginning the depression treatment process with your PCP (such as one from Rural Health Services Consortium Inc.) to determine whether you need to pursue the services of a psychiatrist instead.

What can your PCP do to help you with depression or anxiety?

Unlike medical specialists, who are trained and qualified to handle a specific body part or function, PCPs have a wide breadth of experience and knowledge on issues ranging from depression to diabetes. When a medical issue becomes too serious (or specialized) for a PCP to treat, he or she will refer you to a specialist for more expert care. However, in most cases, your PCP will be able to handle the majority of your medical needs.

Making your PCP the first stop in your depression or anxiety treatment journey can be a good idea for a number of reasons. First, your PCP is likely the one medical professional who has your complete medical history, which can come in very handy when it comes time to determine your treatment options.  

For example, certain types of antidepressants can impede the function of your liver or kidneys -- so those with a family history of diabetes may be a better candidate for an alternative type of medication. And if you're prone to low Vitamin D levels in the winter, your PCP may first opt for a blood test before prescribing any antidepressants to ensure that your depression can't be effectively treated simply by taking an over-the-counter Vitamin D supplement or committing to more sun exposure. On the other hand, visiting a psychiatrist you've never seen before could mean that the person prescribing you antidepressant medication is doing so without the benefit of your entire medical history.

PCPs are also more likely to have appointment slots available at short notice, helping you discuss your medication, treatment plan, and any side effects you may be experiencing without requiring you to wait for weeks to get an appointment.

When should your first stop be at a psychiatrist's or psychologist's office instead? 

Although your PCP can help you on the path to depression and anxiety recovery, there are a few situations in which you may want to see a psychiatrist or psychologist instead.

The most pressing example is when you are considering harming yourself or others. Your PCP can prescribe antidepressants, but these medications can take days or sometimes weeks to kick in -- and if you're suicidal, this can be time you don't have. A psychiatrist is better equipped to assess your mental state and make the treatment recommendations necessary to prevent any harm from befalling you.