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Mental Health Assessment

How It Is Done continued...

A mental health assessment includes an interview with a doctor and may also involve a physical exam and written or verbal tests.

Interview

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.

Physical exam

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 take.

Your doctor may test your reflexes, balance, and senses, such as hearing, taste, sight, smell, and touch.

Lab tests

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).

Written or verbal tests

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 symptoms.
  • 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.

Children

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.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 11, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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