Psychiatry is a medical field devoted to the diagnosis, study, and treatment of mental disorders. The following intro has been excerpted/adapted from Wikipedia:
Psychiatric assessment of a person typically begins with a case history and mental status examination. Physical examinations and psychological tests may be conducted. On occasion, neuroimaging or other neurophysiological techniques are used.
Mental disorders are often diagnosed in accordance with criteria listed in diagnostic manuals such as the widely used Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), edited and used by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Psychopharmacology became an integral part of psychiatry starting with Otto Loewi‘s discovery of the neuromodulatory properties of acetylcholine; thus identifying it as the first-known neurotransmitter. Neuroimaging was first utilized as a tool for psychiatry in the 1980s.
The discovery of chlorpromazine‘s effectiveness in treating schizophrenia in 1952 revolutionized treatment of the disorder, as did lithium carbonate‘s ability to stabilize mood highs and lows in bipolar disorder in 1948.
Biopsychiatric research has shown reproducible abnormalities of brain structure and function, and a strong genetic component for a number of psychiatric disorders. It has elucidated some of the mechanisms of action of medications that are effective in treating some of these disorders.
Still, this research has not progressed to the stage that they can identify clear biomarkers of these disorders.
Research has shown that serious neurobiological disorders such as schizophrenia reveal reproducible abnormalities of brain structure (such as ventricular enlargement) and function. Compelling evidence exists that disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism to name a few have a strong genetic component. Still, brain science has not advanced to the point where scientists or clinicians can point to readily discernible pathologic lesions or genetic abnormalities that in and of themselves serve as reliable or predictive biomarkers of a given mental disorder or mental disorders as a group.
Ultimately, no gross anatomical lesion such as a tumor may ever be found; rather, mental disorders will likely be proven to represent disorders of intercellular communication; or of disrupted neural circuitry. Research already has elucidated some of the mechanisms of action of medications that are effective for depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, attention deficit, and cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. These medications clearly exert influence on specific neurotransmitters, naturally occurring brain chemicals that effect, or regulate, communication between neurons in regions of the brain that control mood, complex reasoning, anxiety, and cognition. In 1970, The Nobel Prize was awarded to Julius Axelrod, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health, for his discovery of how anti-depressant medications regulate the availability of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine in the synapses, or gaps, between nerve cells.