After an ongoing cascade of global crises that began with the pandemic, millions worldwide are grappling with societal upheaval and disruption to daily living. Questions about how they live, what “normal” means, and whether life will be the same are common. Meanwhile, psychiatric and mental health screenings are growing in use.
What is a mental health screening? Is it the same as a psychiatric screening? Is there a mental health screening test? If so, is it something you should get?
Definition of Mental Health Screening
A mental health screening is a test with questions that, once answered, help a medical provider detect possible mental health disorders. It can also be a quick way for the doctor to learn more about your current behavior, memory, thinking, and mood.
Types of Mental Health Screenings
There are several types of mental health screenings. Often, the patient’s self-reported symptoms and the doctor’s observations shape what screening questions are asked.
It is important to note that mental health screenings and questionnaires are not official diagnostic tools. However, they can help people (patients, doctors, and loved ones) better understand mental health status, and in this way fulfill an important function.
A mental health screening test is also available online for individuals who want to check their mental health by completing an anonymous psychiatric screening test. Examples of types of mental health screenings include tests for:
- Anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
- Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Another type of mental health screening is the mental status exam (MSE). This is a test the doctor or mental health counselor regularly conducts to see how the individual is doing during the visit. The doctor observes the person’s attitude, emotions, mood, behavior, appearance, speech and language, insight and judgment, cognition, thought processing, and content. the mental status exam helps the doctor or counselor assess the individual’s functioning and progress toward goals.
Purpose of Mental Health Screenings
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about half (50 percent) of mental health conditions over a lifetime start by the age of 14, while 75 percent commence by the time someone reaches age 24. But while mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders start manifesting through symptoms at a young age, there is a significant intervention and treatment gap of about 11 years. Mental health screenings can help identify emerging mental health disorders and start treatment.
Other mental health experts say that mental health screenings are necessary to spot signs of a disorder so that additional testing can be done to diagnose the specific type of mental disorder.
What are mental health screenings used for?
These psychiatric screening tests and assessments can help identify symptoms and problems, aid in creating a plan to treat mental health, and inform treatment decisions. Screening also can help measure treatment progress, identify personal strengths, encourage treatment readiness and retention, and promote positive health, behavior, and lifestyle changes.
In short, a mental health or psychiatric screening is used to determine if someone has a risk for developing some mental health disorder, whether they need additional testing to either rule out or diagnose a mental illness or disorder, or if they need immediate help for their mental health even before completion of diagnostic tests.
Who Can Benefit From a Mental Health Screening
Mental health screenings can benefit individuals struggling with life or coping with symptoms they don’t understand, Parents may get clarity about some of the problems or difficulties their child is experiencing at school and home. Educators and teachers may be better able to help their students cope with challenging situations at school due to the child receiving a mental health screening test.
Symptoms of Mental Distress
How do you know if what you or your loved one or child is experiencing is mental distress? Signs may include one or more of the following:
- Feeling depressed
- Concentration difficulty
- Extreme guilt
- Worrying all the time
- Avoiding friends and activities
- Low energy
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Relationship problems
- Problem-solving difficulty
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Delusions, paranoia, hallucinations
- A major change in eating habits
- Changes in sex drive
How Are Mental Health Screenings Conducted?
A mental health screening test consists of questions about symptoms you may have. The questionnaire asks about a person’s mood, appetite, sleep, feelings, and other things. The doctor or provider may have you fill out the answers, discuss them with you, or ask you the questions directly. What is most important is honesty and answering thoroughly.
Primary care doctors may also conduct blood tests and a physical exam. The results of some blood tests may show that the individual has a physical illness, like an electrolyte imbalance, or thyroid disease, that may cause symptoms. If the doctor has reason to believe that certain symptoms are brain or nerve-related, they may order brain imaging (magnetic resonance imaging or MRI) or a neurological exam.
If the psychiatric screening is for a child, the test questions will be tailored toward the child’s abilities and age. The parent may be asked to answer a questionnaire about their son or daughter’s behavior.
Importance of Mental Health Screenings
If the initial screening results indicate signs of a mental health disorder, what happens next may depend on the severity of the disorder. The doctor may discuss treatments at this time, order additional tests to rule out other health problems that could be responsible, or refer you to a mental health provider for treatment.
Without mental health screenings, identifying mental health disorders could be delayed indefinitely. During that time, symptoms could worsen and cause significant disruption to everyday life. The goal of treatment for diagnosed mental health disorders is to help the individual learn how to manage symptoms and adopt healthier behaviors to ensure a better quality of life.
Where to Go For the Next Steps
Who treats mental health disorders? Many providers have the specific training to conduct a psychiatric screening. They include psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric mental health nurses, such as advanced practice registered nurses, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, and licensed professional counselors.
What if you want to do an online psychiatric or mental health screening test and don’t know where to start? Mental health screenings may be available at clinical and community health care centers. Also, check out national mental health organizations like NAMI, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, and Mental Health America (MHA).
Screenings are free, anonymous, and confidential and have been scientifically validated as screening tools for many mental health and substance use disorders. Following mental health screening, many individuals want to gather more information about mental health, including apps or tools for self-monitoring their mental health. They also often seek peer or support groups to interact with people who know what they’re going through. Finally, most individuals are referred to treatment, mental health services, and other support services after a mental health screening, should these be warranted or requested.
What if a psychiatric screening and psychological disorder test shows the doctor, nurse, or other mental health practitioners signs that there may be a mental health disorder? You’ll either receive a referral to treatment, more tests ordered to diagnose the specific mental illness, (like depression or anxiety), or you and the doctor or psychiatrist will develop a treatment plan.
Still in doubt? Take an online psychiatric screening or mental health screening test. Answer honestly. If you took the test because you’re worried about symptoms you’ve been having and the test confirms what you suspected, make an appointment with your primary care doctor for further testing and next steps. Remember, mental health screenings are designed to spot mental health conditions early so that treatment can begin.