Undiagnosed mental illness can cause substantial stress and interfere with daily life. One in five people in the United States lives with a mental illness, accounting for 52.9 million people. Taking a mental illness test is a great step towards determining the scope of the disorder in order to guide you towards applicable treatment.1
A mental illness test is a psychological tool used to diagnose mental disorders and help determine the best path to treatment and recovery. There are several different kinds of mental health diagnosis tests for a diverse range of disorders that can help people understand their mental illness and provide options to help manage it.
Mental illness can refer to any psychological disorder that impacts a person’s emotional well-being, affects the people around them or leads to behaviors that fall outside of socially determined norms. Common mental illnesses include:
It is essential to recognize that the difference between normal emotional and mental states and mental illness is the level to which it impacts people’s lives.
While everyone feels sad or anxious from time to time, those feelings alone do not constitute a mental illness. The symptoms of a mental disorder must be present for extended periods, significantly impact daily life, and often have a much greater severity than transient emotional states.
A mental health assessment or psychiatric test can determine whether changes in mood and functioning constitute mental illness or are simply normal reactions that will get better in time. If someone is concerned about mental illness symptoms, they should consider finding a professional who can test and diagnose mental disorders.
Several risk factors increase the likelihood of mental illness, including environmental, biological, or hereditary. There is no single cause of mental illness, but scientists have discovered that the following factors may contribute to the development of mental illness.
Stress is perhaps the most frequently attributed component of mental illness. Recent research from the University of California, Berkeley has shown that chronic stress can create long-term changes in the brain that predispose people to mental illness.2 Note that stress is generally defined as external problems that place extra pressure on a person.3
Examples of stressful life situations include:
Nonetheless, not all stress is inherently negative. For example, stressors can often motivate people to reach their goals, meet a deadline, or excel in work or school. But when people face chronic stress, they never get a chance to relax, and their risk for mental illness increases.
Chronic medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, can make it more likely to develop mental illness.4 This is partly due to the increased stress these conditions can cause.
Chronic disease can also take people away from doing the things they love. When people lose their positive outlets and coping mechanisms, they may grow depressed or anxious. If these feelings persist for extended periods, it may be time for a mental illness check-up.
At their most basic level, mental illnesses disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. Thus, people who have experienced brain damage, either due to physical trauma or stroke, frequently experience mental illness after the damage has occurred.5
The most famous case of mental illness occurring after brain damage is the story of Phineas Gage. Gage was a construction worker in the 1800s, blasting rock with gunpowder to construct a railroad. While preparing a site for an explosion, the powder detonated early and shot an iron rod through his skull.
Gage miraculously survived this incident, but he experienced dramatic personality changes. While he was generally considered a responsible and hardworking man before the incident, afterward, he was observed to be impatient, disagreeable, and unreliable.
The case of Phineas Gage is generally thought to be the first event where brain damage was associated with substantial behavioral changes, and recent research on concussions, traumatic brain injury, and strokes has confirmed this evidence beyond dispute. Fortunately, the brain can remarkably recover after brain damage, but mental health screenings are highly encouraged after a significant injury.
Substance use disorders can result in substantial changes in the brain as well. Addiction is considered a chronic brain disease, and co-occurring mental illness is extremely prevalent. A co-occurring disorder is defined as having a mental health and substance use disorder simultaneously. Research has determined that 37.9% of all people with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental illness and that 18.2% of all people with mental illness also have a substance use disorder.6
Substance use is thought to cause mental illness and be used as a form of self-medication for people who already have a mental illness.7 A substance abuse test can determine whether a person’s drinking or drug use is interfering with their ability to reach mental health recovery, which is why it is typically included in behavioral health screenings.
The root cause of mental illness is a difficult topic; there are dozens of diverse mental illnesses, all with different contributing factors. Though, much is still unknown about what causes some people to have more mental health symptoms than others. What is known is that hereditary traits, environmental exposure, and each person’s unique brain chemistry can all contribute to mental illness.
Disorders like depression are often a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Typically, people who are depressed have lower levels of serotonin than those who are not, which is why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Zoloft, are often helpful in improving depressive symptoms.10 Depression may also be caused by thyroid issues or low levels of vitamin D. A blood test for anxiety and depression can help determine whether someone has any issues with vitamin deficiency or thyroid dysfunction.
Importantly, these chemical imbalances are not entirely responsible for mental illness. Several behavioral and psychological factors can contribute as well, so seeking a behavioral health screening can determine the best treatment option for each patient.
Mental illness symptoms vary by the specific disorder. Each person experiencing mental health challenges has a unique set of symptoms, but there are certain signs that people can look for to determine whether they need to seek psychiatric testing.
Common symptoms of mood disorders include:
People can experience just one or several of these symptoms. If you are experiencing any of them, it may be beneficial to schedule a mental disorder test.
Mental illness symptoms associated with anxiety disorders include:
Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, panic disorders, and specific phobias.
Psychotic disorders generally refer to mental health complications that involve abnormal perceptions or thinking. They can cause people to lose touch with reality and exhibit strange or incongruent behavior.
Common signs of a psychotic disorder include:
These symptoms could indicate that a person has schizophrenia, a delusional disorder, or a variety of other conditions.
Substance use disorders interfere with a person’s ability to stop using alcohol or drugs and cause a significant behavior change.
Common signs of a substance use disorder include:
Although substance use disorders can be extremely difficult to stop on one’s own, many treatment options are available to help people achieve recovery.
Dozens of mental health diagnostic tests exist. Each is targeted at a specific disorder and has specific cut-offs to help medical professionals determine whether a problem is severe enough to require treatment. Taking a test for mental disorders is typically a simple process and shouldn’t be any cause for concern.
Below, we’ve outlined several common mental illness tests used by clinicians to diagnose mental disorders.
Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness, with an estimated twenty-one million adults experiencing a major depressive episode each year, accounting for 6% of the population.11 The most common test for depressive disorders is the Beck Depression Inventory, which is a short questionnaire that can assess whether a person meets the criteria for a depressive disorder.12
This is a self-scored test and is completed by the person seeking treatment. Each item contains four statements with a point value, and the person chooses the statement they feel applies to them the most. After the test, the total points are added up. If the score exceeds the minimum, this indicates the person may have depression.
While the Beck Depression Inventory is by far the most common, other types of depression may require a specific test for mental disorders with alternative instruments. People who meet the criteria on these tests can benefit from treatment for major depressive disorder, and substantially improve their symptoms.
Several types of mental illness tests exist for anxiety disorders. The Generalized Anxiety Disorder assessment is a brief test for mental disorders with only seven questions. It is regularly given to test people who have trouble managing their anxiety.13
This test can help determine the severity of anxiety a person has been experiencing over a period of two weeks and can indicate that further treatment is required.
Testing for bipolar disorder generally requires the assistance of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Since this disorder has varied symptoms that can change from day to day, it is often advisable to work with a provider for an extended period to get an accurate diagnosis.
A psychiatrist will ask several questions about the patient’s feelings, behaviors, and thoughts and may ask them to chart their daily mood for some time to determine the correct course for treatment.
When diagnosing a mental disorder, schizophrenia tests typically incorporate more observations from a psychiatrist or psychologist than other forms of testing. A doctor may also take blood tests to ensure that drugs or alcohol are not producing or masking the patient’s symptoms.
Open-ended tests are often preferred for these disorders, as they let doctors determine the level of disorganization and cognitive impairment patients are experiencing.
Testing for substance abuse disorders typically relies on self-reports from the patient. They will often be asked questions such as:
These questions help a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor determine whether the diagnosis of substance use disorder is appropriate.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of mental illness outlined above, a mental illness test can provide an accurate diagnosis of the problem. Once the problem has been clearly defined, you can seek out targeted treatments or medications that can substantially reduce the negative effects of your mental illness.
Mental health diagnosis testing helps to differentiate your illness from others that may share a similar set of symptoms, ensuring that any treatment you receive after the test accurately treats the root cause of your troubles.
Just as there are several types of mental illness tests, there are several kinds of providers who can give a mental illness check-up. We’ve outlined the four main providers and explained who can deliver a mental health diagnosis test below.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who focus on the mind. This means they can deliver a test for mental disorders, prescribe medications, and provide valuable tools for people struggling with mental illness symptoms. Psychiatrists are the only mental health professionals who can prescribe medications, making them an extremely valuable resource.
Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology, the study of the human mind. They are the go-to source to test for mental disorders and provide valuable insight into each patient’s condition. Clinical psychologists can also provide therapy, and they have extensive training in academic research and clinical practice.
Social workers are often the first line of mental health treatment. They provide therapy and are typically great sources for finding resources, treatment, and professional recommendations for mental health troubles. Social workers hold a master’s degree, meaning they have the education and experience to help people with a wide range of diagnoses.
A licensed professional counselor has a master’s degree in counseling or psychology. They can provide several types of mental illness tests and deliver therapy services. Professional counselors are similar to social workers in many ways and may also direct people to other services that may help them manage their mental health.
Many people see counselors regularly for a mental illness check-up, and they can be extremely helpful in improving one’s sense of well-being.