Your First Appointment: What Happens in a Mental Health Evaluation?

If your doctor refers you to a psychologist or psychiatrist, you may be wondering about what will happen in the first assessment. Well, if it’s any consolation, you aren’t alone. Many patients often worry about the same too. In this article, we shall take you through what happens in the first appointment so you can better prepare and know what to expect when you arrive at the hospital.

The purpose of mental health evaluation

Having an evaluation allows your doctor to understand what you feel, think, remember, and how you reason. The assessment analyzes your emotional wellbeing through a range of questions and physical exams. During the session, your caregiver will also find out whether you pose a risk of hurting yourself and others or not. If the patient is a child, the assessment will be customized to be age and stage-appropriate.

A mental health evaluation is meant to:

  • Diagnose mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, postnatal depression and psychotic illnesses
  • Evaluate the referred person because of problems at home, work or school
  • Differentiate between physical and mental health issues

Getting ready for a mental health evaluation

Before your appointment date, it’s essential to take some time to analyze your condition. A few things to think about include:

  • The symptoms of your mental disorder and how long they last
  • The behaviors, feelings or thoughts that are troubling you
  • The frequency of symptoms and what you do when you have them
  • Whether a particular event, like an accident or death of a loved one, sparked the situation

Noting down everything that happens within the days or weeks leading to your assessment can go a long way. Sometimes, it can be a good idea to bring a family member or friend who is always with you and can describe your symptoms from their point of view. If the evaluation is for a child, you may want to keep a diary of how they behave – and even ask their teachers about the notable changes they have noticed. Last but not least, you want to write down all illicit or prescription drugs that you are on. This is crucial because some drugs alter your reasoning or thinking ability, and could be causing some of your symptoms.

How mental health evaluation works

As mentioned above, the assessment done by your caregiver may include a combination of physical tests and questions. You may also be handed with a questionnaire to fill in.

Interview with your caregiver

As your doctor is conversing with you about your mental disorder symptoms, he or she will be monitoring your mood and the way you act, speak, behave. Mental health services providers are trained to read people’s emotional behavior based on how they carry themselves out. But don’t fret. This is usually very subtle, and you’ll likely not even realize it.

Some of the questions that your caregiver will ask you include your personal history, family history, marital history, work history, and your current state (the support system). Your caregiver would want to learn about any recent or past traumatic event, as well as your childhood and any drug or alcohol issues. He or she may also inquire about your aspirations, ambitions and religious beliefs.

You must answer these questions with all honesty. Trying to conceal some details may only affect your end results. Note that these caregivers are bound by best practice standards and are usually HIPAA compliant. Meaning, all your information is safe with them. Additionally, you shouldn’t worry about how they’ll view you once they know your details because this is their job. They probably have dealt with cases that are more complex than yours.

Physical assessments and other tests

Your caregiver will check your past and current medical history. He or she will also want to know if you have any relative with a mental illness. In some cases, your caregiver will send you to the lab for urine or blood test – often when they suspect an underlying condition like B12 deficiency or anemia. The medical examination may examine your electrolyte levels or thyroid functions. If your caregiver suspects nervous system issues, he or she may recommend an MRI, an EEG or CT scan.