What is a Psychiatric Assessment?

wiseGEEK Writer

A psychiatric assessment is an evaluation of a person’s present psychiatric state, normally as gauged by a psychiatrist. Other specialists like psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, or psychologists might perform some of this assessment. The reasons for getting an assessment can be varied such as when an individual seeks psychiatric treatment or if a person is committed. Alternately people may need to undergo an evaluation for legal purposes if they need to prove mental damage, if they are accused of crimes, or if it is believed they’ve been damaged by others, as in the case of child abuse.

A psychiatric assessment might be called for during a child custody case.
A psychiatric assessment might be called for during a child custody case.

Not all psychiatric assessments will be identical, but they usually include investigation of a person’s family history and background, medical examination, possibly blood or other testing, and observation of the person during answers to see if they exhibit clear signs of changes in mental status. Psychiatrist evaluations also may include administering a variety of screening tests or scales that could indicate or rule out specific mental disorders.

Often mental institutions conduct physical examinations, including a blood test, to rule out any medical problems.
Often mental institutions conduct physical examinations, including a blood test, to rule out any medical problems.

As stated, there are many places a psychiatric assessment could occur. A person who is committed to a mental institution usually has a fairly extensive one, which might involve at least one interview with a psychiatrist to get a family history, to be observed, and to take some screening tests. Mental institutions usually conduct physical examinations to rule out any medical problems, and they’re likely to do at least one blood test.

Psychiatric assistants often help test and assess a patient's psychiatric state.
Psychiatric assistants often help test and assess a patient's psychiatric state.

Other evaluations occur when people seek private assistance from private practice psychiatrists, or if they want to prove mental damages because they plan to sue. Any accused person claiming insanity or suspected to have psychiatric issues might need examination to determine fitness to participate in a trial.

Substance abuse facilities may conduct psychiatric assessments of patients.
Substance abuse facilities may conduct psychiatric assessments of patients.

Though a psychiatric assessment sounds like a single event, it may not occur fully in just one session or meeting. Taking a family history can be a long process, and if there are many examiners involved, it could take several days to a few weeks to complete a total assessment. This is especially true in outpatient settings, and one of the reasons why psychiatrists usually don’t prescribe medicines until a few sessions have occurred. Though someone with an illness might feel frustrated by the time it takes, it is better to have a complete assessment done first since diagnosis and treatment suggestions may be more accurate.

A psychiatric assessment may not occur fully in a single session.
A psychiatric assessment may not occur fully in a single session.

Sometimes the psychiatric assessment is not anywhere near as extensive as described here. It takes an entirely different tone if performed by someone without a medical license. Instead, the main way people could be assessed is by talking about their problems with specialists like therapists or psychologists. They still might complete some screening tests or give a family history, but therapists and psychologists usually can’t order medical tests and can’t make medical examinations. Should specialists feel that a present mental illness or physical illness is contributing to a person’s problems, they might recommend patients see doctors for more accurate diagnoses.

A psychiatric assessment may be conducted to determine whether a patient is suffering from severe anxiety or depression.
A psychiatric assessment may be conducted to determine whether a patient is suffering from severe anxiety or depression.
Family medical and mental heath history will be examined during a psychiatric assessment.
Family medical and mental heath history will be examined during a psychiatric assessment.

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Discussion Comments

ZipLine

@SarahGen-- I guess procedures are sometimes not followed. My nephew was in the hospital for attempted suicide last week and apparently, they let him go without a psychiatric assessment or referral. I find this odd, also because he is a teenager. I would have expected the hospital to do more. I might talk to a social worker about this because I'm worried about him and I don't think his parents pay as much attention to him as they need to. I want him to receive psychological help.

SarahGen

@ZipLine-- As far as I know, yes. A nurse, doctor or psychiatrist will speak to the patient for an assessment and for follow up with a psychiatrist after being released from the hospital.

Brief assessments can even be done during routine checkups. Every psychiatric assessment is not very detailed and long. It does not have to be for a diagnosis or a legal proceeding either. A general practitioner may want to do a basic assessment once a year as a routine checkup. Or if a patient describes symptoms of a mental imbalance or psychological disorder, the doctor may want to do an assessment before sending the patient to a psychiatrist.

ZipLine

If someone is admitted to the ER due to attempted suicide, are they given a psychiatric assessment?

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