Looks at assessments done to discover problems like depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, learning disabilities, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Covers what is done, including an interview, physical exam, lab tests, and written or verbal tests.
Mental Health Assessment
A mental health assessment
gives your doctor an overall picture of how well you feel emotionally and how
well you are able to think, reason, and remember (cognitive functioning). Your
doctor will ask you questions and examine you. You might answer some of the
doctor's questions in writing. Your doctor will pay attention to how you look
and your mood, behavior, thinking, reasoning, memory, and ability to express
yourself. Your doctor will also ask questions about how you get along with
other people, including your family and friends. Sometimes the assessment
includes lab tests, such as blood or urine tests.
the mental health of a person who has been hospitalized or arrested
for a crime, such as drunken driving or physical abuse.
How To Prepare
If you are having a mental health
assessment because you have specific symptoms, you may be asked to keep a diary
or journal for a few days before your appointment. For some assessments, you may be asked to bring a family member or friend
with you, someone who can describe your symptoms from their view.
If your child is being
checked for behavior problems, you may be asked to keep a diary or journal of
how he or she acts for a couple of days. Your child's teacher may need to
answer questions about how your child acts at school.
medicines can cause changes in your ability to think, reason, and remember. Be
sure to tell your doctor about all the nonprescription and prescription
medicines you take.
Talk with your doctor about any concerns you
have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what
the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test,
fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
How It Is Done
Health professionals often do a brief
mental health assessment during regular checkups. If you are having symptoms of
a mental health problem, your doctor may do a more complete assessment or refer
you to another doctor, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
mental health assessment includes an interview with a doctor and may also
involve a physical exam and written or verbal tests.
During the interview, your doctor pays
attention to how you look, how you move, what type of mood you seem
to be in, and how you behave. You will be asked to talk about your symptoms and
complaints. Be as detailed as possible. If you have kept a diary or journal of
your symptoms, share this with your doctor.
Your doctor may ask
you questions to check how well you think, reason, and remember (your cognitive
functioning). He or she may ask you questions to find out how you think, how
you feel about life, and whether you are likely to commit suicide.
A mental health assessment may
include a physical exam. Your doctor will review your past medical history, as
well as that of your family members, and the medicines you currently
Your doctor may test your reflexes, balance, and senses,
such as hearing, taste, sight, smell, and touch.
A mental health assessment
may include one or more verbal or written tests. You will be asked some
questions and will either answer out loud or write your answer on a piece of
paper. Your answers are then rated and scored by your doctor.
Written questionnaires generally contain 20 to 30 questions that can be
answered quickly, often in a "yes" or "no" format. They usually don't take long
to finish, and you can do them by yourself at a regular office visit.
Many mental health questionnaires are available. They look at:
Specific problems. For example, for
depression, the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, the Beck Depression
Inventory, or the Geriatric Depression Scale can be used to evaluate your
How well you are able to think, reason, and remember
(cognitive function). The Mini Mental State Examination can be used to check
your cognitive function.
How well you are able to carry out routine
activities, such as eating, dressing, shopping, or banking.
Sometimes a more extensive mental health test, such as
the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, may be needed. The test may need to be
given by a specialist such as a psychologist.
How a child's mental health is assessed
varies depending on the age of the child and the suspected problem. Young
children may be asked to draw pictures to express their feelings, or they may
be asked to look at pictures or images of common subjects and talk about how
the pictures make them feel. Parents or teachers may be asked to answer
questions about a child using a checklist.
How long does it take?
The time it takes for a
mental health assessment varies depending on the reason for the assessment. An
interview with written or verbal tests may last 30 to 90 minutes, or longer if
several different tests are done. An in-depth test such as the Wechsler Adult
Intelligence Scale may take 1 to 2 hours.
How It Feels
A mental health assessment is used to
find out how you think and feel.
If you are being checked for a problem, such as
alcohol dependence, you may feel resentment, anger, or
hostility and may not want to have the assessment.
If you are being
evaluated for a health condition, such as Alzheimer's disease, you may be
Because some mental health problems are hard to diagnose,
you may worry or become upset if your condition is not quickly or easily
Lab tests do not usually cause much discomfort. A blood
sample will be taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around
your upper arm and may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle,
or you may feel a quick sting or pinch. Collecting a urine sample does not
Your doctor may not be able to find the cause of
your symptoms, because some mental health problems are hard to diagnose. Also,
more than one mental health assessment or other tests may be needed to
accurately diagnose your problem.
A mental health assessment gives your
doctor an overall picture of how well you feel emotionally and how well you are
able to think, reason, and remember (cognitive functioning). Your doctor may
discuss some results of the mental health assessment with you right after the
assessment. Complete results may not be available for several days.
Many conditions can change the results of a mental health assessment.
Your doctor will talk with you about how your results relate to your symptoms
and past health.
Other problems, such as
thyroid disease and brain tumors.
What Affects the Test
You may not be able to have the
test or the results may not be helpful if you:
Are not able to cooperate with and trust your
Are not willing to have a mental health assessment.
Have physical or emotional problems that interfere with your
ability to complete a written test. In most cases, other testing instruments
and tools are used if this is a problem for you.
medicines, alcohol, or illegal drugs.
Have trouble reading, writing, or understanding the English language.
What To Think About
Some mental health problems can be hard to
diagnose. You may need more than one mental health assessment and other tests
to accurately diagnose your problem.
What your family and friends
see or think about your symptoms can sometimes help your doctor diagnose a
mental health problem. Consider having a family member or friend come with you
to your appointment.
Contact your human resources
department or local health department to find out what support services are
available in your area.
Other Works Consulted
Andrews LB (2008). The psychiatric interview and mental status examination. In RE Hales et al., eds., The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, 5th ed., pp. 3–17. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2003). Screening for dementia: Recommendation and rationale. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/3rduspstf/dementia/dementrr.htm.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.