Mental Health Assessment and Screening Tools

Mental health assessment and screening tools are key to helping you and your doctor or therapist understand what’s wrong and what to do next. Read more.

Mental health assessment and screening are vital early steps in taking charge of one's mental health and wellbeing. The best way to return to "right" is to understand exactly what is wrong. This is why doctors diagnose mental illness. They collaborate with the client in order to know their mental illness symptoms and their levels of disruption and duration in order to name the problem (such as depression, social anxiety, etc.) Mental health assessment and screening tools make this process happen.

Screening for Mental Health Problems

Mental health screenings are informal symptom checks. They're typically checklists or questionnaires that ask people to consider their symptoms and either indicate that yes, they experience a given symptom, or no, they do not experience said symptom. Many prompt the test-taker to rate the degree of severity for each symptom he or she is experiencing.

Screening tests don't diagnose mental disorders. Instead, they're powerful tools for beginning to fully understand your mental health, to decide if you should see a mental health professional, and to figure out what you'd like to improve. Additionally, mental health screening tests allow people of all ages to identify and discuss problems before they spiral down and out of control.

Screening tools are sometimes available in places such as community health centers, clinics, and the offices of mental health organizations like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Many times, these are free of charge. For the tech-savvy, screening apps are available for smartphones, and online psychological tests allow people to complete screenings on their own computer. Here are links to various screening tests on

Purpose of a Mental Health Assessment

Screening is a type of mental health assessment, one completed very early in the therapeutic process. Other assessments, sometimes called measurements, appraisals, or tests, take place throughout the process. In general, mental health assessments are used for:

  • identifying symptoms and problems
  • creating a mental health treatment plan
  • diagnosis
  • treatment planning
  • decision-making
  • identifying the client's strengths
  • measuring the achievement of goals
  • examining progress
  • promoting positive changes

Types of Mental Health Assessment Tools

Assessment can be informal or formal, standardized or non-standardized, self-report or therapist-administered. It can be conducted at any stage of the counseling process (prior to beginning, beginning, middle, end, and throughout the entire process). Indeed, there are many ways for people to come to understand what's happening related to their mental health as well as the scope of the trouble. In most cases, a variety of mental health assessment tools are used to gather as much information as possible.

Examples of mental health assessment tools include:

  • observation (the counselor or doctor watches and listens, and makes notes)
  • interviews (structured and formal, from a script of pre-written questions; semi-structured; or informal question-and-answer type discussion)
  • interviews with a client's family
  • checklists
  • rating scales
  • questionnaires
  • standardized tests (tests with fixed instructions for administering, taking, and recording answers whose scores are compared to others in the same age group)

Another assessment is one conducted by the mental health professional or doctor almost continually. Known as a mental status exam (MSE), it helps the doctor or counselor to purposefully observe and note how the client him- or herself seems to be at a given time. The professional assesses the client's appearance, attitude, activity, mood and emotions, speech and language, thought process and content, cognition (thoughts, memory, etc.), and insight and judgment. The MSE helps doctors and mental health counselors to know how the client is functioning and how he or she is moving toward their goals.

Advantage of Mental Health Assessment and Screening

Mental health assessment tools are used throughout the therapeutic process to determine whether someone would benefit from seeking mental health treatment, describe and diagnose the problem, increase knowledge, insight, and understanding, and allow both client and professional to measure goals and progress during the treatment and at the end.

Mental health doctors and counselors are there to help people improve their mental health. Mental health assessment and screening tools allow professionals to collaborate with clients to shape the best personal healing process possible.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, October 23). Mental Health Assessment and Screening Tools, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: October 23, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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