Everything You Need to Know About Online Psychiatrists

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed
June 29, 2021

Mental health is a silent crisis in America, affecting about 21% of adults and 17% of minors every year. Despite its prevalence, mental illness goes largely undisclosed in day-to-day life—you rarely hear people talk about anxiety and depression, even with their closest friends and family.

This stigma and secrecy can make it harder for people to get the care they need. The average time between symptom onset and treatment is 11 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness

If seeing a provider in person doesn’t seem like the best option for you, you might consider an online psychiatrist. Providers who use telemedicine can diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe many medications, all without you having to leave your house. 

In this article, I’ll explain what a psychiatrist is, when it’s best to see one, what all they can prescribe, and how online psychiatrists work so you can decide if online psychiatry (also called telepsychiatry) may be best for you.

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What Is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a licensed medical provider who specializes in treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists typically have medical degrees (M.D.s) and the extensive medical training that is required of any other clinician.

They can conduct therapy, test for mental health conditions, and prescribe medication or other treatment options for patients. 

What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Psychiatrists are slightly different from psychologists, who can also work in talk therapy and support people with depression and anxiety.

While psychologists are extensively trained in human behavior and psychotherapy and often have doctorate-level degrees like a Ph.D. or Psy.D., they cannot prescribe medication.

You need to see a psychiatrist to get antidepressant, anti-anxiety, or mood-stabilizing medication. 

When Is the Right Time to See a Psychiatrist?

If you struggle with symptoms of anxiety or depression and are considering prescription treatment, it might be worth trying online psychiatry or telepsychiatry.

A healthcare professional can help you understand your options and figure out a treatment plan to feel better. 

Symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • Persistent sad or melancholy mood
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Difficulty making decisions or focusing on things
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep changes (difficulty sleeping or issues with oversleeping)
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include: 

  • Feeling restless, unable to focus, or on edge
  • Persistent feelings of worry 
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep or restlessness)

Mental health issues can feel lonely because they aren’t always obvious to other people in your life. But rest assured that what you feel is normal and treatable, and it’s completely OK to ask for help.

If you have thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. And if you need immediate mental health care, call 911. Your life is worth living, and you will get through this and come out stronger on the other side. 

What Can a Psychiatrist Prescribe?

Psychiatrists can prescribe a variety of behavioral and mental health medications, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, and mood stabilizers.

Below are some of the most common medications that mental health professionals may prescribe to their patients:

Antidepressants

Anti-anxiety medications

All these prescription medications have slightly different side effects, so it may take a little time to find the right treatment plan for you. Stick with what your provider suggests, as follow-up sessions and medication management will help ensure you stay happy and healthy in the long term.

Online therapy can be a great option in conjunction with psychiatric medication to create this kind of well-rounded health plan. 

Can You See a Psychiatrist Online?

An online certified psychiatrist is very similar to an in-person psychiatrist. They have the same medical training and background.

The biggest difference is the way online doctors operate. Psychiatrists who work online see patients through video, phone, text, or a combination of these options, making them easily accessible to people who have trouble commuting, don’t wish to see a doctor in public, or cannot access local care.

Doctors like ours at K Health are also available on short notice—we can chat with patients instantly 24/7.

When searching for telepsychiatry services, make sure you see someone who is certified, licensed, and HIPAA-compliant, meaning they’re committed to keeping your information confidential. Also check if your health insurance covers care with your online provider. 

What Can an Online Psychiatrist Prescribe?

Online psychiatrists can prescribe most of the same psychiatric medications as an in-person medical doctor, with a few exceptions: They can’t treat patients who require ongoing care for a chronic illness that might need physical exams.

They also can’t prescribe controlled substances, ADHD medications, or medications that are highly subject to abuse. 

What’s the reason for this? With riskier medications, it’s better to work with a provider who can physically follow up to check that you’re doing OK.

Online medicine is wonderful for its convenience, but it can’t always take the place of face-to-face interactions with a professional, especially when you have a complicated mental or behavioral health condition like bipolar disorder.

But don’t worry—if an online psychiatrist can’t help with your specific medical concern, they will provide suggestions and a referral about where to seek care next. 

Can an online psychiatrist prescribe Adderall?

No. Adderall is an FDA-controlled substance that cannot legally be prescribed online. If you wish to consider Adderall, see a psychiatrist in person who can diagnose you and help with medication management.

Can an online psychiatrist prescribe Xanax?

No. Xanax is an FDA-controlled substance that cannot legally be prescribed online. That’s not to say it can’t be helpful for some people, but you have to see a provider in person to talk through your options. 

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How to Talk to a Psychiatrist & Get a Prescription 

Every online psychiatrist works a little differently, so check around until you find one that best suits your needs.

For example, if you’d like to talk to one of K Health’s affiliated doctors or licensed therapists, download the app and follow the prompts to connect with someone who can help.

Through the messaging feature, your doctor will ask standard questions you’d hear at any clinic about your symptoms, medical history, allergies, and current medications.

They’ll also ask when you started noticing symptoms and how much they’re interfering in your daily life. Once your doctor has the information they need, they can diagnose you and suggest a prescription, if necessary.

As long as your situation fits within the parameters of what an online psychiatrist can prescribe, you can get your prescription shortly after that initial consultation.

Other online providers and therapy services operate through video sessions or phone calls. These psychiatry sessions are often similar to in-person visits, and you can talk confidentially about whatever is on your mind.

Again, if appropriate, the provider can prescribe medication or a refill.

The best part of using telehealth for psychiatric care? There is zero wait time, so you can be in and out of your appointment much faster than if you had to ask off of work to drive across town.

Online mental health services are also discreet, compassionate, and accessible no matter where you are. 

How K Health Can Help

Anxiety and depression are among the most under-reported and under-treated diseases in America. Nearly 21% of adults in the US suffer from mental health illness and fewer than half receive treatment. Our mission is to increase access to treatment for those suffering in silence.

You can start controlling your anxiety and depression and get access to the treatment you need with K Health. Starting at $12/month get prescriptions for mental health medications plus unlimited doctor visits through the K Health app. Start your free assessment here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I talk to a psychiatrist online?
Yes! Online psychiatrists see patients through video, phone, text, or a combination of these options. They can diagnose mental and behavioral health conditions and prescribe medication to help you feel better.
Can online psychiatrists prescribe Xanax?
No. Xanax is an FDA-controlled substance that cannot legally be prescribed online. In order to obtain Xanax, you have to see a doctor in person. However, online psychiatrists can prescribe other options such as SSRIs or anti-anxiety medications.
Are online psychiatrists legal?
Online psychiatrists are legal and just as legitimate as in-person providers. That said, make sure you see someone who is licensed, certified, and HIPAA-compliant.
Can I get my psychiatrist prescriptions delivered?
Most prescriptions can be delivered via mail, but this depends on your health insurance coverage and whether an online pharmacy ships to your area. Talk to your online doctor about the options available for prescription delivery or pick-up.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.