A mental health assessment is generally one or more tests performed by a doctor or other health practitioner like a psychologist to gauge status of mental health. It may or may not be able to accurately diagnose mental issues or changes in mental behavior from other conditions like injury. Usually it is a snapshot of a person’s mental health at a particular period in time, and each snapshot is different and may be comprised of different components. These pictures or assessments can be useful, even if not fully accurate or conclusive, because they can signify need to further investigate mental health issues.
As previously stated, there might several pieces and parts to a mental health assessment. Doctors might begin with a routine physical health examination, looking for any issues that could be impacting thinking or behavior. Exams could include blood testing or other scans if needed, such as electroencephalograms or magnetic resonance imaging if brain injury is suspected. A physical exam is not always performed and extensive scanning isn’t always part of these tests, either.
While the doctor makes a physical examination, he or she usually asks patients question about health, behavior, stresses at work or home, and he may test things like ability to remember words or dates, or awareness of present events such as who the leader of the country is. Psychologists or other mental health professionals might simply begin with these questions, forgoing a physical exam. One concern with many mental health disorders is the risk that patients may commit suicide. It is very likely people will be asked if they have this present urge or if they have attempted suicide in the past. As difficult as it may be to answer these questions, honesty is important because it may hold the key to getting treatment that will help.
Before or after speaking with a doctor or psychologist, people might be asked to take certain tests or questionnaires that describe current mental status. Some people undergo extensive intelligence testing. Others spend a few minutes filling out questionnaires or answer more questions from the health professional.
Fill-in forms that people are asked to complete can vary in questions and appearance. People might use these forms to rate feelings of depression, anxiety or suicidality or questions on a form might ask whether the person is accustomed to seeing or hearing things that other people don’t hear or see.
In fact, in some instances, people routinely fill one of these forms when they begin work with a new therapist or psychiatrist. Some people view these questionnaires as a short version of a mental health assessment. Such forms alone can’t tell everything about illness and they certainly are made complicated by the issue that people are not always truthful in their answers.
Once a mental health assessment is complete, and especially if any type of intelligence testing of serious scope occurred, it could take a few days for doctors to determine a diagnosis. Not all people can wait a few days, and a preliminary diagnosis could be made sooner so that some types of treatment might start immediately. In particular, anyone conducting this assessment wants to make sure that people who are potentially suicidal, dangerously delusional or who are perhaps exhibiting signs of serious brain injury get the treatment they need right away. Waiting could have profoundly negative effects.
Mental health assessment is not perfect and not always correct in its conclusions. As the snapshot gets more detail from treatment, another diagnosis for a mental health condition could be found to be more appropriate, modifying treatment. In particular, certain illnesses tend to be notoriously difficult to diagnose, like bipolar II, which often looks like depression. These assessments should be viewed as the starting point of diagnostics in mental health care: greatly useful, but not always definitive.