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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.
A mental health assessment may be done by your primary care
doctor or by a
psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker.
A mental health assessment
for a child is geared to the child's age and stage of development.
A mental health assessment is done
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?).
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.
The mental health assessment sometimes
includes lab tests on a blood or urine sample. If a nervous system problem is
suspected, tests such as
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),
electroencephalogram (EEG), or
computed tomography (CT) may be done. Lab tests to
detect other problems may include
thyroid function tests,
electrolyte levels, or toxicology screening (to look
for drug or alcohol problems).
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:
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.
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.
A mental health assessment is used to
find out how you think and feel.
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.
A mental health assessment can help diagnose:
You may not be able to have the
test or the results may not be helpful if you:
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.
Current as of:
January 11, 2013
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
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