Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Mental Health Assessment

Mental Health Assessment

Test Overview

A mental health assessment gives your doctor a complete picture of your emotional state. It also looks at how well you are able to think, reason, and remember (cognitive functioning). Your doctor will ask you questions and examine you. You might answer some of the doctor's questions in writing. Your doctor will take note of how you look as well as your mood, behavior, thinking, reasoning, and memory, and how well you can express yourself. Your doctor will also ask questions about how you get along with other people. This includes 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 it may be done by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. The results of your test are confidential.

A mental health assessment for a child is geared to the child's age and stage of development.

Why It Is Done

Why It Is Done

A mental health assessment is done to:

  • Find out about and check on mental health problems. This can include anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, and anorexia nervosa.
  • Help tell the difference between mental and physical health problems.
  • Check a person who has been referred for mental health treatment. This might be done for problems at school, work, or home. For example, it may be used to find out if a child has a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or a conduct disorder (CD).
  • Check the mental health of a person who has been in the hospital or arrested for a crime, such as drunk driving or physical abuse.
How To Prepare

How To Prepare

If you are having a mental health assessment because you have certain symptoms, you may be asked to keep a diary or journal for a few days before the test. You may be asked to bring a family member or friend with you. They 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 your child acts for a couple of days. Your child's teacher may need to answer questions about how your child acts at school.

How It Is Done

How It Is Done

Health professionals often do a brief mental health check during regular checkups. If you are having symptoms of a mental health problem, your doctor may do a more complete assessment. Or he or she may refer you to another doctor, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

You will have an interview with a doctor. You may also get a physical exam and written or verbal tests.

Interview

During the interview, your doctor notes your mood and how you present yourself. You will be asked to talk about your symptoms and concerns. Be as detailed as you can. If you have kept a diary or journal of your symptoms, share this with your doctor.

Your doctor may ask you questions to check how well you think, reason, and remember. He or she may ask you questions to find out how you feel about life, and if you are likely to hurt yourself.

Physical exam

You may get a physical exam. Your doctor will ask about your past health as well as that of your family members. He or she will ask what medicines you take.

Your doctor may test your reflexes, balance, and senses (hearing, taste, sight, smell, and touch).

Lab tests

You may have lab tests done on a blood or urine sample. If your doctor thinks you may have a nervous system problem, you may get tests such as an MRI, an EEG, or a CT scan. Lab tests to find other problems may include thyroid function tests, electrolyte levels, or toxicology screening (to look for drug or alcohol problems).

Written or verbal tests

You will be asked some questions and will answer out loud or on a piece of paper. Your answers are then rated and scored by your doctor.

Written tests most often have 20 to 30 questions that can be answered quickly. These are often in a "yes" or "no" format. You can do them by yourself at a regular office visit.

Many mental health tests are available. They look at:

  • Specific problems. For example, the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, the Beck Depression Inventory, or the Geriatric Depression Scale can be used to check for symptoms of depression.
  • How well you are able to think, reason, and remember. The Mini Mental State Examination can be used to check this.
  • How well you are able to carry out routine tasks, such as eating, dressing, shopping, or banking.

Sometimes a longer mental health test, such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, may be needed. The test may be given by a specialist such as a psychologist.

Children

How a child's mental health is looked at will depend on the age of the child and what problem the doctor thinks the child may have. Young children may be asked to draw pictures to express their feelings. They may also be asked to look at images of common subjects and talk about how these make them feel. Parents or teachers may be asked to answer a checklist of questions about the child.

How long does it take?

The time it takes will depend on the reason the test is being done. An interview with written or verbal tests may last 30 to 90 minutes. It can last longer if several different tests are done. An in-depth test such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale may take 1 to 2 hours.

How It Feels

How It Feels

A mental health assessment is used to find out how you think and feel.

  • You may feel resentful, angry, or hostile if you are being checked for a problem, such as alcohol use disorder. You may not want to have the test.
  • You may feel afraid if you are being checked for a health condition, such as Alzheimer's disease.
  • You may worry or become upset if your condition is not quickly or easily found. Some mental health problems are hard to diagnose.

Lab tests usually don't cause much discomfort. The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch. And if you have a urine test, it is not painful to collect a urine sample.

Risks

Risks

Your doctor may not be able to find the cause of your symptoms. Some mental health problems are hard to diagnose. More than one mental health assessment or other tests may be needed.

Results

Results

Your doctor may discuss some of the results with you right away. Complete results may not be ready for several days.

Many conditions can change the results of testing. Your doctor will talk with you about how your results relate to your symptoms and past health.

A mental health assessment can help find:

  • Mental health problems, such as:
    • Anxiety disorders.
    • Depression.
    • Schizophrenia.
    • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
    • Conduct disorder.
    • Bipolar disorders.
    • Eating disorders.
  • Developmental problems, such as:
    • Learning disabilities.
    • Intellectual disability.
    • Autism spectrum disorder.
  • Substance use disorder.
  • Diseases of the nervous system, such as:
    • Alzheimer's disease.
    • Huntington's disease.
    • Parkinson's disease.
    • Epilepsy.
  • Other problems, such as thyroid disease and brain tumors.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Medical Tests: Questions to Ask the Doctor

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details