Is There a Mental Illness Test?

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have a mental illness.

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There isn’t a single test that can determine if you have a mental illness—or deem you 100% mentally healthy. Instead, a diagnosis of mental illness is made by a medical or mental health professional who has conducted a thorough evaluation.

Reasons to Be Screened

There are a number of reasons why you might need to be screened for a mental health condition. Some of these reasons include:

  • Avoidance of social situations or normal activities
  • Changes in mood or dramatic mood swings
  • Feeling anxious, worried, or fearful
  • Feelings of worthlessness, irritability, anger, frustration
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Low mood or feelings of sadness
  • Trouble concentrating or confused thinking
  • Trouble coping with daily stress

Thoughts of self-harm or suicide are one of the most serious signs of a mental health condition. 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Diagnosis

If you are concerned about the mental health symptoms you are experiencing, the first step is to talk to your doctor for a mental health assessment. This assessment often involves a number of things including a physical exam, lab tests, questionnaires, and interviews.

Physical Exam and Lab Tests

In most cases, a primary care physician (PCP) or family doctor will rule out physical health issues first. Some medical conditions can contribute to or mimic mental health problems, so lab tests or a complete physical exam may be necessary. Hypothyroidism, for example, may mimic symptoms of depression. When this is the case, treating the thyroid condition may help someone feel better emotionally.

Personal History

Your doctor may also ask you questions about your personal history. This will include different aspects of your life including your marital status, family relationships, occupation, and sources of stress.

Mental Health Screening

Your doctor may also conduct a mental health evaluation which will involve asking questions about your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. You will be asked to describe the symptoms you have been experiencing including when these symptoms occur, how often you have been having them, and to what degree they impact your life. As part of this screening, you may also be asked to fill out different screening questionnaires. 

Next Steps

Once physical health issues are ruled out, a PCP may make a diagnosis of mental illness. PCPs are qualified to diagnose mental illnesses, like major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes, they prescribe medication to treat mental illness.

Quite often, however, primary care physicians refer patients with a suspected mental illness to a mental health professional.

A PCP may recommend a patient see a psychiatrist for medication management or a referral to a psychotherapist for talk therapy. Before starting treatment, the mental health professional who is making a diagnosis will interview the patient. Questions often focus on symptoms, history of symptoms, and difficulties with functioning.

Family members may be interviewed as well. This is especially true when a child is being diagnosed with a mental illness or when an individual has poor insight or is an unreliable reporter.

The mental health professional will also observe the patient in the office. Some symptoms may be obvious in the interview, such as low energy or hyperactivity. A mental health professional will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) to make a diagnosis. The DSM-5 outlines the criteria for each mental illness.

Psychological Tests

There may be times when psychological testing is necessary. Psychological tests are assessment tools that are administered by psychologists. Some different types of psychological tests that may be used to help clarify a diagnosis include:

  • Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)
  • Dissociative Experiences Scale
  • Goldberg Bipolar Spectrum Screening Questionnaire
  • Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A)
  • Schizophrenia Test and Early Psychosis Indicator (STEP)
  • Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale

There are a variety of reasons that a patient may undergo psychological testing. Sometimes, testing is needed to help gain clarity about the diagnosis. Other tests may help identify a person's IQ or any learning disabilities. Psychological tests can also diagnose brain injuries and dementia.

Psychological tests may be administered via a computer, or they may be written or given orally. They may involve a series of questions where an individual is asked to provide information about how often they experience certain symptoms or they may be asked to choose statements that best describe how they think, feel, and behave.

Screening Tests

Mental health screening tests can be used to help look for signs of some of the most common mental disorders including:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance or alcohol use disorder

Screening tests don’t diagnose mental illness but they can signal when further evaluation is needed. Some physicians administer screening tests during annual physicals to look for signs that someone may be experiencing common mental illnesses, like anxiety or depression. Examples of questions that you might see on a screening instrument include:

  • Do you feel tired or fatigued even after you've had plenty of sleep?
  • Do you feel sad, irritable, or anxious most of the time?
  • Do you find it difficult to fall or stay asleep?
  • Do you have trouble enjoying things you used to find pleasurable?
  • Do you ever rely on drugs or alcohol to manage your feelings?
  • Is it difficult to control your feelings of anger or irritation?
  • Do you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or others?

A screening test may be administered in the form of a simple questionnaire or a physician or nurse may run through a simple list of questions.

Screening tests may also be used by physicians and other mental health professionals to determine whether further evaluation is needed surrounding a potential substance use issue. A few simple questions can help determine if someone engages in problematic drinking, for example.

How to Take a Screening Test at Home

There are also free screening tests online that you can access. Mental Health America’s website offers screening tools that can help determine if you should speak to your doctor about depression, anxiety, bipolar, psychosis, eating disorders, PTSD, and addiction. There is also a screening tool for children. As the parent, you can fill out one questionnaire and also ask your child to fill out another.

The Mental Health America screening tools take only a couple of minutes to complete and you’ll get instant results. You’ll be given a score and advice on how you might want to proceed.

For example, you might be advised to take another screening test since conditions like anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand. The screening tool may suggest you should show the results to your physician to start a conversation about whether you might have a mental illness.

Getting Help

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have a mental illness, talk to a physician. Or take an online screening tool test to learn more about your symptoms. Mental illnesses are treatable and early intervention can be key to helping you or a loved one best manage your symptoms.

It is important to remember that the result of an online screening tool is not a substitute for an evaluation by your doctor. If you do have a mental disorder, it is important to get appropriate treatment. Talk to your doctor for clinical evaluation and formal diagnosis.

If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid). Published August 2016.

  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Understanding Your Diagnosis.

  3. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.