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What Is a Mental Evaluation?

By Valerie Goldberg
Updated: May 17, 2024

A mental evaluation, also know as a psychological evaluation, is a test or an assessment administered by a psychologist. There are various reasons a person may need to have a mental evaluation done. This type of evaluation can be used to help a mental health professional diagnose a patient with conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. Parents may wish to get a mental evaluation of their school-age child if the child is struggling in class or acting out. Courts can require a psychological evaluation in cases in which a person convicted of a crime is pleading insanity.

A psychologist may choose to perform a formal or informal mental evaluation, if not both, on a patient. During a formal mental evaluation, the mental health professional will administer a test, often in questionnaire form, to help diagnose a patient. A mental health professional may give a patient more than one formal test, to evaluate various aspects of the patient's condition. Types of questionnaires can range from intellectual tests to personality tests to emotional assessments.

Informal mental evaluations are less structured. A psychologist will typically perform an informal mental evaluation by having a more casual conversation with a patient and asking appropriate questions throughout the session. This can help a mental health professional gain further insight into a patient's thoughts, feelings and everyday routine.

It is common for a psychologist to want to speak to a spouse, grown child or close friends of the person undergoing the mental evaluation if the patient's condition is serious. Some patients may not give accurate information during informal evaluations, because they are in denial about having a condition. Other patients may have been suffering from anxiety or mood swings for so long that they consider certain abnormal behaviors to be normal. Getting a third-party perspective can help a psychologist to see the full picture about what is going on in a patient's life.

Seeking a mental health evaluation can be the first step toward a person with a psychological disorder getting treatment and leading a higher quality of life. Many psychological disorders can be managed with prescription medications, cognitive therapy and group therapy. Mental illnesses are just as serious as physical illnesses and can sometimes be debilitating and dangerous for both sufferers and those around them. A mental evaluation can be redone later in treatment, after a patient has tried different medications and therapies, to see if the person's condition has improved.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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