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, and some of the questions may be 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.

For children, a mental health assessment is geared to the child’s age and stage of development.

Why is it done?

A mental health assessment is done to:

  • Find out about and check on mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and anorexia nervosa.
  • Help tell the difference between mental and physical health problems.
  • Evaluate a person who has been referred for mental health treatment because of problems at school, work, or home. For example, a mental health assessment may be used to find out if a child has learning disabilities or behavior disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder (CD), or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Check the mental health of a person who has been hospitalized or arrested for a crime, such as drunken driving or physical abuse.

How to prepare

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.

Many 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, and what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form.

Signs and symptoms

Mental illnesses have specific signs and symptoms, much like diabetes or any other disease. These symptoms can be identified and treated. Take depression, again, as an example. It’s normal to be sad for a while after a personal loss or a traumatic event. But when the effects linger and begin to affect your self-esteem, or interfere with your ability to do your job or handle other responsibilities, you may have a deeper problem. Serious depression should be treated professionally – for instance, with cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or combination of both.

Many large employers include mental health coverage with employee assistance programs (EAPs), which provide counselling and referrals – both over the phone and in person – to workers and members of their families who are suffering from personal crises. EAPs are an important way to screen for mental health problems.

How is it done?

Health professionals often do a brief mental health assessment during regular checkups. If you have 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.


Such tests may help identify early signs of a mental health problem. Follow-up checks may then be utilized to gauge the outcomes of treatment and progress over time.

Wouldn’t a mental health checkup have the potential to help nearly everyone take better care of themselves?