A mental health or psychiatric assessment is primarily a question and answer type assessment (whether that be verbal or written), but there can also be a physical examination. During the verbal interview, the doctor will be paying attention to your body language, your word choice, your tone, your facial expressions, and your general manner.
All of these things will help them learn about what you are experiencing and work towards a diagnosis. The doctor will ask you a variety of questions about things like your social life, your family history, past trauma, and current thoughts/feelings. It is important that you strive to answer all questions, especially the more difficult ones, as honestly as possible. This is so that you can receive an accurate diagnosis.
Why Choose to Have a Private Psychiatric Assessment?
There are a couple of reasons that people choose to go with a private assessor rather than waiting for an opening with a psychologist or psychiatrist that works for the public. First of all, it is pretty much always a faster process. If you want to get a diagnosis sooner rather than later, it may not make sense for you to wait.
Furthermore, you will know that you are seeing a top specialist that fits your individual wants and needs. When you go through a group like the NHS, though they work to ensure that all their employees are top psychologists/psychiatrists, you still run more risk of ending up with one that you simply do not work well with.
What Types of Conditions Are Assessed On?
You can receive a psychiatric assessment for a wide variety of different mental disorders, including, but not limited to, ADHD, addiction, anxiety, autistic spectrum disorders, behavioural disorders, depression, eating disorders, OCD, and PTSD.
You can also receive a psychiatric assessment for memory/brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Most disorders that deal with the brain and mental Function can be diagnosed with a psychiatric assessment, though some disorders may need additional tests like brain scans.
What Are the Elements of a Psychiatric Assessment?
During any type of psychiatric assessment, the doctor will look at a variety of factors which are listed below:
One of the biggest things you can expect to discuss in a psychiatric assessment is your symptoms. These may be symptoms that you already know you are experiencing, or the person you see may ask questions about something you did not even realize was a symptom.
A symptom can be physical or mental, but most of them will have something to do with thoughts that you have, things that you feel, and your behaviours. All three of those things can give important insight.
2. Treatment History
You can also expect that there will be questions about your treatment history. This could be past diagnosis (correct or incorrect) and any treatment that you have previously received.
One of the reasons for this is if you are seeing a new psychologist or psychiatrist, they may want to come up with their own diagnosis. This is even if it is the same as someone you previously saw, but knowing another professional’s opinion can help them focus their inquiry.
Treatment history may also include medications you have been on, whether that be for mental or physical issues, because that may affect their diagnosis and their treatment plan.
3. Substance Abuse History
Various substances, especially when abused, can lead to symptoms that may mimic a variety of other mental problems. For this reason, you can expect to answer questions about any substance abuse that is in your or your family’s past.
4. Family History
The assessor will most likely ask questions about your family history. This could have to do with things like disorders that your relatives have experienced, generational trauma, and other key genetic and environmental factors that could have an influence on your mental health and state.
5. Development and Social History
The assessor will want to look at both how you have genetically developed and how your environment could have shaped you (your social history), as both of these things can influence a person’s mental health and state significantly.
Socially can include friendships, your reaction to social situations, past and current relationships, and your sexual history.
The Purpose of Psychiatric Assessment
There a few different reasons someone would get a mental health assessment. The first and primary goal of a mental health assessment is to come up with a diagnosis. A patient may choose to go in and get an assessment on their own or, with severe cases, it may be mandated by a doctor, court, or loved one.
Diagnosis is vital because treatment cannot take place until after a diagnosis is given. Secondary purposes of mental health assessment can be things like reports for insurance claims, reports for work or school, and evidence to use in court.
Preparing for a Psychiatric Assessment
Though the psychiatrist or psychologist will lead the assessment, there are some things that you can do to prepare and make the process faster and easier. Before you go to the assessment, you can start paying close attention and even journaling about the symptoms that you are experiencing.
You will want to take note of anything that could be a symptom (thoughts, feelings, behaviours, etc.), any triggers that seem to bring on said symptoms, how often the symptoms occur, and how long you experience them for. You should also be prepared to answer questions about any drugs/substances you are taking, whether that be prescription or illicit.
What Does the Mental Status Examination Include?
- General Appearance: this is assessed by the doctor observing and taking note of things like whether their hygiene is at a level that is considered healthy or socially acceptable, whether they are dressed appropriately for the weather and the occasion, and whether they have scars or other physical evidence of substance abuse or self-harm
- Speech: an assessor may take note of all sorts of speech patterns, including syntax, rate, and volume. Abnormalities or unique patterns can be helpful when trying to come up with a diagnosis
- Emotional Expression: as a patient talks and answers questions, their tone of voice, hand gestures, facial expressions, and posture can all give insights into what they are feeling and experiencing
- Thinking and Perception: an assessor will be able to figure out what a person is thinking and perceiving based on what they are saying and how they are saying it. Thinking and perception could show signs of symptoms like delusions, obsessions
- Cognitive Function: an assessor will example a patient’s level of alertness, orientation, memory, reasoning, attentiveness, insight, and judgment
Assessing Suicidal Intent
During a psych assessment, the assessor will be paying special attention to signs of suicidal intent because that requires immediate and sometimes drastic action to protect the patient. The assessor will look for signs of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other behaviours that are considered to be suicidal behaviour. If there is evidence of suicidal intent, sometimes actions towards treatment will be taken before a full diagnosis is made.
Standard Adult Psychiatric Assessment FAQs
There can be many concerns and queries when it comes to a psychiatric assessment. To help you, below we have answered some frequently asked questions:
1. How long is the appointment?
The length of your appointment can vary based on who you go to see, but they will be able to give you an estimate before you schedule. A typical appointment is usually between sixty and seventy-five minutes long; though, for complex diagnoses, it may take longer.
2. Can I bring my own notes?
The psychiatrist or psychologist will probably lead most of the conversation with questions, but you can bring notes in with you to make sure any and all concerns and issues that you want to discuss are talked about during the session.
3. I’m nervous about my appointment
It is normal for most people to be slightly anxious before an appointment, but you do not need to get overly anxious. Asking the person you plan to see specific questions about the process while you are scheduling your appointment may help you calm some of those nerves.
4. I’m scared about what people will think
This is a medical assessment, so any conclusions or information from this meeting must be kept strictly confidential by law – so no one will know unless you tell them.
Medical staff and counsellors are required by law to inform the authorities if you are conducting any illegal activity such as supplying or selling drugs illicitly. They must also refer you to the appropriate department if you pose a risk to yourself, or to others.
How Will the Decision to Section Me Be Made?
After your assessment, the assessor will may a decision on whether or not you will be sectioned. Most of the time, sectioning will happen within fourteen days. But it could also happen within twenty-four hours for severe cases.
Sometimes a patient will be admitted right after assessment if a bed is available at the treatment centre in question. The decision on whether or not you will be sectioned is based on your diagnosis, the severity of your issue, and whether you pose a threat to yourself or others.
What if the Decision is to Take Me to the Hospital?
If the assessment ends in the decision that you need to hospitalized, you will be taken there as soon as possible. This could be directly after, or there may be a gap period depending on availability and need. Arrangements can and will be made for the care of any animals or children that you are responsible for. After all papers are filed, you will be legally detained in the hospital. While this can sound intense, all efforts will be made to make it a calm and beneficial process for you.
What Are My Rights While I am Being Assessed?
- You can have someone of your choice (friend, family, etc.) present with you
- The assessors must follow the Mental Health Act Code of Practice that states that all relevant information is considered, and possible alternatives to sectioning will be discussed with the patient
- Your situation should be considered on an individual level. Things like age, gender, background, sexual orientation, and disabilities can affect how an assessment will be completed
- You have the right to an interpreter
- You can ask questions and express your views
- You should always be kept fully informed
- You have the right not to answer questions