Why and When Do I Need A Psychiatric Evaluation?

Everyone goes through difficult times in their lives. From the death of a loved one to financial burdens to marriage and family issues, mental health and external stress are part of everyday life. When someone finds these stressful situations overwhelming or has these feelings without any stressors, it is the right time to seek a psychiatric evaluation.

What is a psychiatric evaluation?

A psychiatric evaluation is a clinical assessment of an individual’s mental state and can be performed by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other medical professionals.

A psychiatrist or other mental health professional will ask questions about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The answers to these questions will be used to make a diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan for you.

Psychiatric evaluations can take place in many different settings: hospitals, clinics and private practices. They can last for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or one hour depending on the evaluation’s complexity.

Psychiatric evaluations are often used before starting a new medication or other treatment plans. These evaluations let doctors know whether it’s safe for the patient to start taking medications or if any other conditions need to be treated first.

Types of psychiatric evaluations

Many different types of psychiatric evaluations can be performed, including:

Emergency psychiatric evaluations

An emergency psychiatric evaluation is a formal assessment conducted by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional to determine whether a person is experiencing an acute mental health crisis.

This evaluation aims to provide immediate treatment and determine whether the patient should be hospitalized or receive outpatient treatment.

Emergency evaluations are often required when patients suffer from a severe psychiatric disorder and risk harming themselves or others. If a person has suicidal thoughts, for example, they may require an emergency evaluation to prevent them from acting on these thoughts. Emergency evaluations can also help prevent patients from being incarcerated in jail or prison due to mental illness.

General psychiatric evaluations

A general psychiatric evaluation is a thorough examination to determine whether an individual has a mental health condition and, if so, what type of treatment may be necessary. The evaluation may include the following:

  • A complete medical history and physical examination, including a review of past medical records
  • A mental status examination, which is an assessment of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • A review of your family history for evidence of genetic factors (mental illnesses tend to run in families)
  • An assessment of your social history (including education, employment and relationships), as well as substance use patterns
  • An assessment of possible comorbid conditions (conditions that coexist with the primary illness)

Clinical consultations

Clinical consultation is a brief assessment, usually conducted over the phone or in person, to determine whether a referral for a more comprehensive evaluation is warranted. A clinical consultation aims to screen for severe mental illnesses and determine if further treatment is needed.

How is a Psychiatric Evaluation Conducted 

A psychiatric evaluation usually begins with an intake assessment by a doctor or psychiatrist. This evaluation allows the professional to gather information about the patient’s medical history and symptoms, such as feelings of depression or anxiety.

The person being evaluated may be asked to provide information about their family history and any past traumatic experiences or abuse or neglect that may have contributed to the current mental or emotional state. A physical exam may also be conducted at this time, during which the patient will be asked questions about their physical symptoms.

Some of the questions you can expect to be asked during an evaluation include the following:

  • Do you have any history of substance abuse? 
  • Has anyone in your family committed suicide?
  • Do you have a family history of mental illness? 
  • What was your childhood like? 
  • Do you have any history of being abused? 
  • Have you had any significant medical conditions or surgery in the past?
  • How are you feeling? Is your mood or energy level consistent throughout the day?
  • Have you been struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep? 
  • Have you ever been diagnosed or treated for any mental illness? 
  • How is your performance at school or work?

How to Prepare for a Psychiatric Evaluation

Preparing for a psychiatric evaluation is an essential part of the process. You want to be as clear and concise as possible so your doctor can get a good idea of your circumstances. Here are some things you should consider before you head into the office:

Make a list of your symptoms. This will be easy if you’ve been keeping track of your symptoms. Put them in order from worst to least severe (or vice versa).

Take inventory of your medications. This will help the doctor determine potential side effects or drug interactions that might affect the diagnosis.

Write down any major life events — both positive and negative — since they may have contributed to your current mental state.

Write down any family history of mental illness or suicide attempts. This could indicate if there’s a genetic predisposition toward certain mental illnesses or conditions.

How Long Does It Take to Do a Psychiatric Evaluation? 

An evaluation can take 15 – 30 minutes or more. The evaluation length depends on your age, medical history, past hospitalizations, and why you are seeking treatment. The number of questions asked and the length of the dialogue during your first meeting, and the type of documentation provided also depend on who is requesting the evaluation.

Where to Get a Psychiatric Evaluation?

Many people experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, but only about one-fourth of them seek treatment at any point during their lives. It’s important to know the signs of depression or anxiety so that you can get help if they start interfering with your day-to-day life.

People can get psychiatric evaluations in different settings. These include:

  • Inpatient units (following hospitalization)
  • Emergency departments
  • Outpatient facilities, such as office-based practices or intensive outpatient programs
  • Residential treatment facilities
  • Home care services
  • Nursing homes
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Schools
  • Prisons
  • Mental Health Management Group

What to Expect After a Psychiatric Evaluation 

Once all relevant information has been collected and reviewed, a diagnosis will be given, and treatment options will be discussed with both parties involved (the patient and his or her family members). Treatment plans vary based on individual needs but could include medications.


Though no one wants to face the prospect of a psychiatric evaluation, it can be vital. Evaluation can also be an important part of a legal process that cannot be ignored. People are often scared of participating in an evaluation. Still, this fear is likely unnecessary–they’re not nearly as bad as most people believe and require understanding when and why they occur and what it will feel like talking with someone about yourself.


How does Psychiatry work?

Meeting with a psychiatrist is often misrepresented on TV. Psychiatrists’ medical training includes the complex relationship between emotional, medical illnesses, and family history genetics to evaluate medical, neurological, and psychological data. They make a diagnosis and work with patients to develop a treatment plan.

Is psychiatric evaluations for everyone?

No. Psychiatric evaluations are not required for everyone. However, they are certainly recommended for quite a few people’s situations in which a psychiatric evaluation may be necessary or recommended.

How often should I see my psychiatrist?

The frequency of visits depends on the type of problem you are experiencing. For example, if you have been diagnosed with depression and are prescribed medication, you may only need to come in for an evaluation every few months. However, suppose you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and are taking medications to treat these conditions. In that case, you may need more frequent visits to identify the medication that works best for you and how quickly your body metabolizes it with the least side effects. Your psychiatrist will discuss this with you during your first visit.

What is a Psychological Evaluation and is it different from a Psychiatric Evaluation?

Psychologists and psychiatrists can ask questions and administer tests to provide you with a diagnosis and a recommended treatment plan.  The evaluation process and the recommendations have different purposes, outcomes, or intended use for the diagnosis.
– A psychiatric evaluation is used to arrive at a psychiatric medical diagnosis with a prescribed treatment plan that may include medication.  
– A psychological evaluation provides a snapshot of behavior, cognitive functioning, or mood by contrasting the individual results against a peer group.  The recommendations can include counseling, talk therapy, school learning-skill adjustments, or a referral to a psychiatrist for medication.
– A psych educational evaluation is to identify autism, age-related learning or development challenges, as well as school achievement testing preparation.

Are psychiatric medications addictive?

Most medicines are not addictive. Only some medications risk addiction, and effective medication management addresses this concern. The patient and doctor find the right balance for the patient, monitoring progress over time.


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