Should My Teen Get a Mental Health Assessment?

If you think that you have a physical health condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or an ear infection, your doctor will run some type of assessment (a blood pressure reading, a blood test, a look inside of your ear) to diagnose the illness. While most of the time a blood test or a urine screening will not provide a diagnosis of a mental health condition, your doctor or mental health practitioner can use a specific mental health assessment to determine whether you are affected by depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, psychosis, or one of countless other mental health conditions. Read on for important information on the various types of mental health assessments and how they can help your doctor treat you.


Why You Might Take a Mental Health Assessment

If you believe that you or your teen is showing symptoms of a mental health condition and it’s not an emergency situation, the first step is often to go to your primary care doctor. Because there are physical illnesses that can cause symptoms which mimic mental health conditions, it’s important to have these ruled out. For example, if you are experiencing a rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, it might be a panic attack, but if it’s the first time it’s happening to you, it’s important to have your heart and lung function checked to be sure.

When you are the doctor’s office, the physician can run physical tests and order blood work, but if they don’t see anything alarming or obvious, it’s likely that they will also do a mental health assessment. This generally entails asking you (or your teen) questions such as:

  • Have you been experiencing stress?
  • How you are sleeping?
  • Are you missing meals?
  • Do you take the time for self-care?

If your doctor suspects that a mental health condition might be the cause of your symptoms, then you will generally be referred to a mental health professional for an evaluation.


Different Types of Assessments Done By Your Doctor

The type of mental health assessment done will depend on which condition your doctor suspects you might have.

For example, you might be screened for depression if you are suffering from:

  • non-specific aches and pains
  • lethargy
  • sadness lasting more than two weeks
  • a change in appetite

If you are having these symptoms but they alternate with high levels of energy, periods of time where you need very little sleep, and hallucinations, you might be assessed for bipolar disorder.

People who are experiencing delusions or hallucinations might be observed to rule out or confirm a diagnosis of schizophrenia or other delusional or psychotic disorders. Those losing weight or not eating might need an evaluation for an eating disorder. A screening might also be done if you or someone you love suspects that you maybe have a substance addiction.

Many assessments are done in the mental health care practitioner’s office, but others will need to be done in a hospital setting. This is particularly true if you or your teen is acting violently, having severe psychotic symptoms, showing signs of being suicidal, or putting his or her life or the life of someone else at risk.


Online Mental Health Assessments

In today’s always-connected world, it’s very easy to type any symptoms that you might be having into your favorite search engine. If you’ve ever Googled “headache” or “pain in lower back,” you know that you will almost always stumble onto a website that claims that your perfectly common symptoms could be caused by cancer or some other life-threatening disease. There are many people who get very upset by this and rush off to the doctor after reading that their headache is brain cancer, only to be diagnosed with eyestrain, sinus trouble, or the common cold. For this reason, it’s important to be wary of anything you read online that diagnoses you with a mental health problem (or any other health condition).

With that being said, it’s convenient and private to do a mental health assessment in your own home from your computer or smartphone. If you choose to take such a test, be sure to share the results with your doctor or mental health specialist. That is the person who can help you by confirming or ruling out a website diagnosis and also who can help you get the mental health treatment you need.


Taking the Next Steps

Learning that you or your teen has a mental health condition can come as a shock or as confirmation of what you already suspected. Once you know what the problem is, you can begin taking steps to feel better. For most people suffering from a mental health condition, therapy or counseling will be a large part of their treatment. There are many different types of therapy, including:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • group therapy
  • expressive arts therapy
  • experiential therapy
  • and others

Your doctor will tell you which type or types of therapy are right for you.

Additionally, you might be offered medication to help with symptoms. In many cases, it will be up to you to decide whether you want to try medication right away or whether you would like to wait and see if lifestyle changes and therapy make a big enough difference on their own. Other times, you will absolutely need medication to help you cope with your condition. It’s important to look at the meds the same way you would look at high blood pressure pills or antibiotics for an infection; they’re important and needed, and you should not feel bad about taking them.

While you might be saddened and concerned if you or your teenager is diagnosed with a mental health condition, look at the diagnosis as the first step toward feeling better. Once the symptoms of the condition are under control, you or your child will be able to move ahead in life, doing all of the things you want to do without being burdened by debilitating and unpleasant symptoms. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you think that a mental health condition is affecting you or your teen.