Background/Aim: Every day, a substantial proportion of the general population experiences the distressing and frightening signs of an upcoming psychiatric illness. The consequences can be enormous because severe psychiatric disorders typically cause the loss of the ability to work and often mean a long-term burden for both the patients and their families. Even though most developed countries have an exceptionally high density of general practitioners and psychiatrists in private practice, getting a mental health appointment and seeing a doctor is often very difficult for patients with acute psychiatric symptoms. This study aimed at quantifying the time delay involved in seeking medical attendance when psychiatric disorders begin to develop. Methods: Two female actors with well-proven experiences of realistically simulating the clinical presentation of depression and psychotic disorders made systematic phone calls to 106 psychiatrists in private practice and 106 general practitioners (GPs) of the Zurich City area. The actors asked for an appointment at the doctor's earliest convenience due to acute psychiatric symptoms. We assessed (1) the number of phone calls it took to reach each doctor; (2) the time it took to book an appointment; (3) the time span between the first phone call and the earliest available appointment, and (4) the possibility of personal contact with a doctor prior to booking the appointment. Results: A total of 383 phone calls were made by the two actors (227 to psychiatrists and 156 to GPs) which resulted in analyzable data from 102 psychiatrist and 106 GP practices. Two thirds (68%) of the phone calls to the psychiatrists in private practice were answered by voice mail, compared to 21% among the GPs. A personal contact was established with 56% of the psychiatrists and 95% of the GPs. On average, 7.3 phone calls were necessary to successfully book an appointment with a psychiatrist. Almost half of the psychiatrists (45.6%) were not accepting new patients so appointments were able to be booked in less than one third of cases (30.4%). The situation was significantly better with GPs (p < 0.002) but depended on clinical diagnosis (p < 0.01). The waiting time to seeing a psychiatrist often far exceeded 7 days. Conclusions: A high density of psychiatrists in private practice does not necessarily improve the long and troublesome circumstances of obtaining a mental health appointment in acute psychiatric situations. Under these circumstances, a considerable proportion of patients might give up prior to seeing a doctor. This has important implications - many patients could miss the potential benefits from timely therapeutic interventions which can significantly modify both the acute and long-term course of the illness. The situation might be improved if psychiatrists and GPs joined forces in the form of group practices or networks as this would readily ensure (1) a rapid mental health triage by assessing and categorizing the urgency of mental health-related problems, and (2) timely therapeutic interventions whenever indicated.