Psychiatry is definitely a field that is very under staffed and under-appreciated. There is a variety of solutions to address this issue, some practical and others not so much. Here are two that are interesting to consider:
One solution would be to increase the exposure medical students and residents have to psychiatry and psychiatric interviewing. This would help medical professionals learn how to become more comfortable with mental illness and become better able to elicit a psychiatric history from patients. Of course, this comes with the caveat that the medical school and residency syllabi are already so jammed packed that finding space to add anything is almost impossible.
Another solution is to have a psychiatrist or psychologist present at all times in the ER. The ER is where many people with psychiatric conditions come and this is often their only exposure to medical attention in general. Even though the reason they come to the ER is usually for something physical, this is a very important place and time to screen for other conditions. Traumas for example can lead to a whole host of mental conditions ranging from PTSD to depression to psychosis; and when the initial trauma occurs, people first come to the ER. If they can get psych interventions early on in the process, there is a chance that much of the following psychiatry morbidity could be alleviated, if not completely avoided. Of course this would require increased staffing of ERs and more time spent with patients. This is often impossible to afford in the setting of emergencies.
Regardless of the solution, there are too many people with untreated mental illnesses and there are too few chances for them to be diagnosed and treated. This problem will continue to grow if it is not addressed.