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Mental Illness Test

Learn about how mental illness tests can help with diagnoses and treatment plans.


Article Contents

What Is Mental Illness?

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.

Just How Common is Mental Illness?

What are Some Common Types of Mental Illness?

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:

Recognizing the Difference

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.

Risk Factors in Mental Illness

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.

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Stressful Life Situations

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:

  • Arguments with friends or family
  • Food insecurity
  • Economic insecurity
  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Moving to a new city or house
  • Academic pressure

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.

Ongoing Chronic Medical Condition

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.

Brain Damage

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.

Use of Alcohol or Recreational Drugs

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.

Examining the Scope of Mental Illness

Causes of Mental Illness

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.

Inherited Traits

There is substantial evidence that inherited traits contribute to mental illness.8 Disorders like schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar can run in families, suggesting that certain genetic factors predispose people to mental illness. Therefore, if mental illness is present in the family, it may be beneficial to seek out a mental health pathology test.

Environmental Exposures Before Birth

Certain environmental factors during pregnancy can cause mental illness in children. The most well-known of these is fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause a lifelong learning disability and lead to other mental illnesses in the child’s life. People born with fetal alcohol syndrome are commonly diagnosed with substance use, depression, and anxiety disorders later in life.9

Brain Chemistry

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.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness

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.

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Mood Disorders

Common symptoms of mood disorders include:

  • Persistent negative mood
  • Sleep difficulties, such as insomnia or oversleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Changes in weight
  • A negative outlook on the future

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.

Anxiety Disorders

Mental illness symptoms associated with anxiety disorders include:

  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Frequent episodes of fear or panic
  • Shortness of breath during anxiety
  • An inability to calm down or relax
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sleep difficulties, such as unsatisfying sleep or difficulty falling or staying asleep

Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, panic disorders, and specific phobias.

Psychotic Disorders

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:

  • Visual hallucinations, or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Auditory hallucinations, or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Delusions, or false beliefs without a basis in reality
  • Frustration or irritability
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Confusion
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Jumbled or incoherent speech

These symptoms could indicate that a person has schizophrenia, a delusional disorder, or a variety of other conditions.

Substance Use Disorders

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:

  • Needing to use substances frequently
  • Having to use more to achieve the same effect
  • Inability to quit using substances
  • Withdrawal symptoms after stopping
  • Loss of interest in other activities
  • Problems in relationships, school, or work
  • Continued use despite consequences

Although substance use disorders can be extremely difficult to stop on one’s own, many treatment options are available to help people achieve recovery.

Mental Illness Test: Signs of a Substance Use Disorder

What Is a Mental Illness Test?

A mental illness test is a diagnostic tool used by psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and licensed professional counselors to determine whether a person meets the criteria for a mental health disorder. These tests can help diagnose mental disorders, determine the severity of a disorder, determine whether the symptoms are severe enough to require treatment, and find specific treatments designed to help people recover from their mental illness.

Types of Mental Illness Tests

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 and Mood Disorders Test

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.

Anxiety Disorders Test

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.

Bipolar Disorder Test

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.

Schizophrenia and Psychotic Disorders Test

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.

Substance Abuse and Addictive Disorders Test

Testing for substance abuse disorders typically relies on self-reports from the patient. They will often be asked questions such as:

  • How much do you drink or use each day?
  • How long have you been using?
  • Have you tried to stop before?
  • Is your drug use interfering with other aspects of your life?

These questions help a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor determine whether the diagnosis of substance use disorder is appropriate.

Why Do I Need a Mental Illness Test?

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.

Why It’s Important to Erase Stigma Around Mental Illness and Testing

Types of Providers Who Treat Mental Disorders

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.

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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.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers

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.

Licensed Professional Counselors

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.

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