Identifying the Right Psychiatric Expert for Your College Campus

Over 36% of college counseling center directors say they have no psychiatric provider on campus, which is a problem considering 75% of all lifetime cases of mental illness present by age 24. College counseling centers are often equipped with high-quality clinical providers who are trained in young adult mental health care, but how many are qualified to oversee medication management plans? How many have been trained in neurology and biochemistry?

Equipping your college counseling center with psychiatric specialists is a necessity if you want to build a robust offering of mental health services. Psychiatry involves so much more than mental health; it dives into medical, behavioral, and lifestyle factors, all of which contribute to holistic care. 

Why Invest in Psychiatry?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They have received significantly more training than counselors or psychologists and have a more specialized understanding of mental illness. Unlike psychologists, therapists, or counselors, psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medication, if needed, to treat a mental health condition. Specialized treatment can be imperative to students battling severe mental illness, especially those needing antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication as part of their treatment plan. 

Prompt psychiatric intervention is also paramount for students at risk of suicide ideation or behavior. Psychiatrists can help students manage a variety of mental health conditions that require medication, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorder, or severe depression.

Because of their extensive medical training, psychiatrists can also align with medical doctors to determine the correlation between physical symptoms and conditions. Thyroid problems, for example, can cause mental health symptoms like mood swings, nervousness, and anxiety. Mental health conditions, like severe depression, can also affect a student’s physical health. 

Psychiatrists understand the science behind mental illness and are uniquely positioned to work as the go-between for mental health and medical professionals. The challenge is finding a psychiatrist, let alone a psychiatrist who specializes in young adult mental health care. 

Types of Psychiatric Specialists

When evaluating psychiatry, it’s important to consider the different types of psychiatric specialists who are trained to work on college campuses. The most common types are psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse mental health practitioners (PMHNP). We explain the differences between these roles and the benefits of each.


Psychiatrists complete four years of medical school after college to get their Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and then another four years of residency specializing in neurology and psychiatry. Psychiatry training includes a general intern year which allows them to rotate through all areas of medicine beyond mental health. Many will continue their training further in fellowships and spend three or more years studying and treating mental illness before receiving their board certification. 

To become board-certified, psychiatrists must show expertise in individual, group, and couples counseling, as well general neurology, and medical management of mental and physical illnesses which affect mental function.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP)

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) completes their general nurse practitioner (NP) training before spending an additional two or more years specializing in treating illnesses that affect the way people think and feel. PMHNPs are able to treat and manage mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Like psychiatrists, PMHNPs can prescribe medication, but in many states, a PMHNP must work with a physician who oversees and signs off on their practice. One of the benefits to working with a PMHNP on a college campus is that they can work closely between health centers and college counseling centers to close gaps in care.

“If I was dealing with a new onset of psychosis in a young person with a really tricky presentation, I would absolutely want to make sure that person is working with a psychiatrist,” says Leigh White, MD, a psychiatrist at Mantra Health. “But I think psychiatric nurse practitioners are very well equipped to work with depression and anxiety, especially when they are paired with a supervising psychiatrist [or MD].”

The collaboration between PMHNPs and physicians can vary depending on the state. Some require basic collaboration, offering PMHNPs the opportunity to ask questions or it may mean that a physician must be physically present and available to cosign on all of a PMHNP’s notes and scripts. Texas and Missouri, for example, require the physical presence of a physician within a certain number of miles of the PMHNP. 

Working with a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is extremely valuable. When choosing a psychiatrist, it’s important to consult your state’s healthcare laws before determining which type of psychiatric specialist is right for your campus. 

Addressing Student Mental Health with Psychiatry 

“To meet the medical and mental health needs of our nation, we have to have all of these resources and we have to have our PAs and NPs working as a team with physicians to provide a range of medical care,” says Dr. White. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to psychiatric care, because every college campus has a different set of health and counseling services. If you’re in a rural area, you may not have reliable access to psychiatry and you may need telepsychiatry to fill gaps. If your campus has a reliable, communicative medical center, with available physicians, you may not need a psychiatrist; you may benefit more from a PMHNP who can work with your existing staff to offer additional care. 

At Mantra Health, we work with colleges and universities to better understand care gaps, so we can equip college counseling centers with the most comprehensive, highest quality care possible. You may have psychiatrists on staff or you may not be able to afford a full-time psychiatrist. Regardless of your existing situation, you can benefit from more diverse care – and that’s why we encourage all colleges and universities to consider additional care options.

We know how hard it is to build a reliable team of clinical providers who are specialized in young adult mental healthcare. Rather than replacing your existing mental health professionals, we offer extended services and collaboration tools to make the most of your existing resources and ensure that your providers are given the time and support they need to thrive. 

Learn about our telepsychiatry services here or download our ebook Telepsychiatry: Transforming College Mental Health to learn more about the benefits of telepsychiatry.