Mental health evaluations assist mental health professionals in diagnosing and treating mental illness and co-occurring disorders. Learn what to expect before, during and after a mental health evaluation.
Article at a Glance:
- Mental health evaluations give professionals an overview of a person’s condition through questions and tests.
- Evaluations can help diagnose many different mental health disorders.
- You can prepare yourself for a mental health evaluation by thinking about how long your symptoms last, how often they occur and what triggers them.
- Written and verbal questions, a physical exam and basic lab tests may be used during a mental health evaluation.
- You might consider getting a second opinion from another professional after an evaluation.
A mental health evaluation gives a doctor, counselor, psychologist or other licensed professional a picture of the way a person feels, reasons, thinks and remembers. Through a series of questions and physical tests, a professional can diagnose a number of mental disorders.
Some mental disorders an evaluation may help diagnose include:
- Depression and mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Attention Deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse and addictive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders
In addition to determining if a person suffers from a mental condition, the evaluation can help determine whether a person has co-occurring substance use disorder. An evaluation can also help rule out a physical cause for the health symptoms, such as thyroid disease.
People shouldn’t be nervous about a mental health evaluation. Evaluations can help professionals understand an individual’s mental health needs and determine a treatment plan or path to recovery.
- Professionals who specialize in mental health include:
- Psychiatrists can diagnose and treat mental health disorders. They can prescribe medication.
- Psychologists have doctoral degrees but not medical degrees. They can diagnose and treat disorders, but they cannot prescribe medication. Some have a special license to do so.
- Licensed clinical social workers have master’s degrees and training in mental health. They can’t prescribe medication but work with providers that do.
- Licensed professional counselors have master’s degrees and offer counseling on a variety of mental health issues. They can’t prescribe medication but work with providers that do.
Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a few signs and symptoms may indicate the need for a mental health evaluation. Catching a mental health disorder early may prevent it from getting worse or stop it from happening.
Some symptoms include:
- An unusual drop in functioning at work or school and in daily activities
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Difficulty with memory, thinking and other mental tasks
- Exaggerated beliefs about personal powers or magical thinking
- Feeling disconnected from surroundings
- Heightened sensitivity to sight, touch, sound or taste
- Loss of desire, apathy
- Mood changes
- Paranoia or fear or others
- Unusual behavior
- Withdrawal or loss of interest from activities
How to Prepare for a Mental Health Evaluation
Nothing special is required to prepare for an evaluation. However, it is a good idea to think about the reasons for the assessment. Writing in a journal about thoughts and feelings in the days and weeks before the evaluation appointment may also help.
Some things to think about include:
- Mental health symptoms
- Troubling thoughts and behaviors
- Events that may make the symptoms worse
- How long the symptoms last
- How often the symptoms occur
It is also important to think about what the goals and expectations of therapy are. If there are substance abuse issues, make a list of all prescription or street drugs and substances. You don’t have to attend an evaluation alone. Take a friend or family member for company and support if necessary.
You may want to consider the costs associated with the evaluation. Typically, if health insurance covers the visit, there is no need to discuss fees. If the visit is not covered by insurance, the therapist may ask about your financial situation in order to negotiate a fee. Some may ask for pay stubs or other documentation to help determine the cost to you.
What Happens During the Evaluation?
A mental health evaluation is an interview between the person being evaluated and their therapist or doctor. The mental health professional will likely use a combination of interview questions and a written questionnaire. If the professional is a doctor, he or she may also do a physical examination or basic lab tests to rule out physical diseases.
One of the very first things a licensed professional will do is evaluate an immediate need for help or psychiatric intervention. He or she will have to determine if the person seeking help is a danger to themselves or others. The professional will observe the person, ask questions and use their clinical experience to gauge this.
“There is a suicide protocol if you feel someone is distraught,” Bingham says. “Therapists are mandated to send people to a hospital for help if they are suicidal.”
Before the evaluation can begin, mental health professionals will ask for any necessary signed consent or authorization forms. They need these to get medical records, medical history, medication history and other information.
There are also consent forms needed to give permission for professionals to discuss treatment with spouses and family members.
Mental health professionals are more likely to ask detailed questions in the interview and written questionnaire. Medical doctors may rely more on basic questions and may refer a patient to a psychiatrist or therapist.
Common interview and questionnaire topics include:
- Current symptoms
- History of present illness
- Psychiatric history
- Medical history
- Family history
- Social history
- Substance use and abuse
Some sample questions could include:
- What words would you use to describe yourself? (Intelligent, Sensitive, Evil, Crazy, Sad, etc.)
- How many siblings do you have?
- What was your relationship like with your parents?
- How did your parents discipline you?
- Were you ever in a residential treatment center as a juvenile? Where? When?
- Have you ever been in therapy before?
- Are you currently on any medications for a mental disorder?
- Have you ever attempted suicide?
- Have you had any past psychological evaluations? If so, what were they for?
- Does anyone in your family suffer from mental health problems?
- Did you belong to a gang?
- How many DUIs have you had?
- What are your religious beliefs?
If a medical doctor conducts the evaluation, he or she may conduct a physical exam to rule out physical cause of mental disorder symptoms. This can include blood or urine tests. If they suspect a nervous system problem, he or she may order an MRI or CT scan.
For learning disabilities and other cognitive function issues, a psychologist may conduct aptitude and memory tests.
Questions to Ask
While the mental health professional or medical doctor will be asking a lot of questions, the person being evaluated should also ask questions. An important question to ask is “do you have experience with my particular symptoms or problem?’”
Other questions to ask include:
- How do you define mental health?
- What is your opinion on medication?
- What are your views on therapy?
- What are your views on addiction?
- What is your suicidality policy?
A person should ask questions until they feel sure that the mental health professional or doctor is capable of meeting their expectations for the appointment. If the mental health professional is evasive, condescending or seems reluctant to answer questions, consider that a red flag.
Getting Help and a Treatment Plan
After the mental health evaluation, the doctor or licensed mental health professional will review the results with you. Next, they will recommend a treatment plan. The plan may include psychotherapy or medication. Sometimes both may be necessary. In this case, a therapist or counselor may refer people to psychiatrists who can prescribe medication.
For people with co-occurring disorders, treatment plans may be more complicated. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, professionals should diagnose and treat psychiatric illness and substance use disorders simultaneously. Diagnosing these disorders may also be more difficult when a person abuses more than one substance such as alcohol, heroin or nicotine. Symptoms of mental illness and drug abuse also often overlap.
After the evaluation, people may seek a second opinion or consult another professional for additional treatment plan options.
If you or a loved one is facing addiction with a co-occurring mental health disorder, facilities like The Recovery Village specialize in treating both simultaneously. We have facilities across the country and work with each patient on an individualized treatment plan to meet their unique needs. Don’t wait to get the help you deserve. Contact us today.
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“Common Comorbidities with Substance Abuse Disorders.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, February 2019. Accessed May 17, 2019.
“Mental Health Screening.” Medline Plus, January 31, 2019. Accessed May 17, 2019.
Parek, Rannah. “Warning Signs of Mental Illness.” American Psychiatric Association, July 2018. Accessed May 18, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.