There are four widely used mental health tests that mental health professionals use in their practice.
Many mental health tests exist, and are often widely used by healthcare providers to determine whether a patient is suffering from a mental health condition.
Oftentimes, these tests can be complex and it can be hard to understand what they measure. However, screening tests can be particularly useful to trained professionals, and can help to discriminating between different medical conditions.
Some mental health tests are used to assist in diagnosing generalized anxiety disorder, while the other tests can be useful for examining symptoms of depression.
Assessment tests for generalized anxiety disorder: the GAD-7 and the Beck Anxiety Inventory
The first commonly used mental health test for anxiety is the Beck Anxiety Inventory, which was originally created in 1988. This test consists of 21 items, and is given to adults as well as adolescents.
The Beck Anxiety Inventory is helpful in determining the severity of generalized anxiety disorder. It is particularly useful in helping to distinguish between anxiety and depressive disorders. If a healthcare provider chooses to use this test, they can either have the patient complete it on their own, or fill it out as part of an assessment interview.
Each of the 21 items on the test corresponds to a different symptom of anxiety. During the test, the patient is asked to rate how much they are bothered by each of the of these symptoms on a scale of 0 to 3, with 0 being none at all, and 3 being severely. Following that, the scores of each item are summed and the total score helps determine the severity of the disorder.
In this way, for instance, a score between 0 to 9 would be interpreted as normal anxiety, meaning the patient is experiencing everyday types of anxiety that would not interfere with their functioning. Scores between 30 and 63 indicate severe anxiety, with significant disturbance to the patient’s functioning.
Another, shorter test for generalized anxiety disorder is the GAD-7. This screening test uses only 7 items, that are to be rated by the patient in the same way as the Beck Anxiety Inventory.
The test asks the patient to rate how often they have been bothered by the symptom in the last two weeks. Each item on the scale can be given a rating between 0 to 3, with 0 being not at all, 1 indicating “several days”, 2 indicating “More than half the days” and 3 indicating “nearly every day”.
The items on the GAD-7 include statements such as “feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge” and “not being able to stop or control worrying”. After completing the test, the mental health professional can sum up all the items and use it to infer the severity of the disorder. In this test, scores between 0 to 4 would mean low levels of severity, while scores above 15 would indicate a severe disorder.
Assessment tests for depression: The Beck Depression Inventory and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression
When researchers want to find out whether a patient is experience symptoms of depression, they often resort to the first of these tests: The Beck Depression Inventory. This test, having been created in 1961 and revised several times since, cannot be used to diagnose a mental illness, but it is very commonly used in research.
The Beck Depression Inventory has been created by the observations of clinicians, and it emphasizes the patient’s attitudes towards themselves. In it, there are 21 items which correspond to 21 symptoms of depression. Each of these items is to be rated on a four-point scale. Items cover symptoms such as sadness, pessimism, loss of pleasure, past failure, and more.
While originally intended to be administered by a practitioner, these days it is most commonly administered as a survey. This test will be scored, and severity will be determined in a similar way to the previous tests.
Another test that is commonly used in mental health assessments is the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. This test has been created in 1960, and is intended to be administered by a trained professional.
This test is also similarly used mostly in research, although it can sometimes be found as part of a therapeutic procedure. This scale has been developed in order to help clinical researchers testing newly developed antidepressants reliably measure mental illness in patients.
Instead of statements, this test contains items that congregated by symptoms. For instance, when measuring depressed mood, the interviewer might ask the patient whether they have a tendency to feel sad or to weep. Each symptom will be scored on a scale of 0 to 4, and items will be totaled to indicate the severity of the mental illness.
This test has been the most commonly used clinical rating scale for depression in the past 40 years. In one review, it has been reported to have been used in over 500 published studies within one decade.
Overall, all of these tests are quite commonly used and can be particularly helpful in determining the severity and symptom breadth of a patient’s disorder. Nevertheless, each test may have its own limitation, and no test produces entirely accurate results each time.
One thing to keep in mind is that mental health professionals must use mental health tests as tools, assisting the clinician in understanding the patient’s state, but not an absolute measurement. Clinicians will often rely on their own experience and subjective understanding of the patient when using these tests.
Because of that, even if it is tempting to try and rate yourself or someone you know using these tests, it is important to remember that it will not be useful in such a setting. These tests should be administered by trained mental health professionals. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and want to find out whether you have a disorder, it is best to talk to your doctor.
Written by Maor Bernshtein
References: McDowell, I. (2006-04-06). Measuring Health: A guide to rating scales and questionnaires: Oxford University Press. https://oxford-universitypressscholarship-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195165678.001.0001/acprof-9780195165678
Spitzer RL, Kroenke K, Williams JBW, Löwe B. A Brief Measure for Assessing Generalized Anxiety Disorder: The GAD-7. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(10):1092–1097. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.10.1092
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