Discussion on the meaning of Psychiatry should definitely start with discussion over its definition. The term Psychiatry was first used by the German anatomist Johann Christian Reil (1759-1813; Campbell, 2004
). Currian and Guttman (1949) defined “Psychiatry as a branch of medicine whose special province is the study, prevention and treatment of all types and degrees of mental ill health, however caused” (Slater and Roth, 2006
). ‘Mental ill health’ is a vague term and undermines the importance of behavioral changes in a human, which might not necessarily qualify for being called ‘ill-health’. Slater and Roth describe psychiatry as “a branch of medicine in which psychological phenomena are important as causes, signs and symptoms, or as curative agents” (Slater and Roth, 2006
). This definition takes into consideration only psychological phenomenon, which is retrogressive when considered in light of the conceptual advances in psychiatry made in the last few decades.
According to a recent definition by Campbell, Psychiatry is
The medical specialty concerned with the study, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of behavior disorders (Campbell, 2004
This definition only considers the behavioral aspects of psychiatry. All psychiatric problems cannot be really expanded and applied to human behaviour as a whole, but in the wake of the current understanding of psychiatry, behavioral disorders should be included in the definition. We might go a little further and make a little change in Campbell's definition and say:
Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with the causation, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental and behavioral disorders.
Though critics may argue that this definition does not specify the meaning of mental and behavioral disorders, they must realize that a definition must be precise and easy to understand, besides incorporating core features of the subject. We believe this definition best defines Psychiatry, in accordance with current knowledge and understanding in the field.
At present, we do not have the means by which many psychiatric illnesses could be cured completely. While some have short time courses and only minor symptoms, many are chronic conditions that can have a significant impact on patients′ quality of life, even life expectancy; and as such, require long-term or life-long treatment. Efficacy of treatment for any given condition is also variable from patient to patient. Some have complete resolution of symptoms while others unfortunately have poor or minimal response to even the strongest of measures. Majority of the patients fall somewhere in between.
In general, psychiatric treatments have improved significantly over the past several decades, beginning with the advent of modern psychiatric medications. In the past, psychiatric patients were often hospitalized for six months or more, with a significant number of cases involving hospitalization for many years. Today, most psychiatric patients are managed as outpatients. If hospitalization is required, the average hospital stay is around two to three weeks, with only a small number of cases involving long-term in-patient care.