What is a teenage mental health assessment?

‘Assessment’ is just another word for an appointment, consultation or interview – or series of appointments – with a health professional like a GP, psychologist or counsellor. These appointments are designed to find out what your child’s mental health issues are.

Why your child might need a teenage mental health assessment

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between normal teenage worry or teenage moods and more serious mental health issues.

Most normal teenage irritability, arguing and moodiness comes and goes quickly. But when these feelings go on for 2-3 weeks or are very intense for shorter periods, it can be a sign that it’s more than just worry or feeling down.

If your child doesn’t want to see friends, or is spending most of the time by herself, it’s a sign that you need to take action.

Also if your child stops doing things he usually enjoys, doesn’t seem to be enjoying the things he’s doing, isn’t doing so well at school or is taking more risks than usual, this could be a sign that he’s feeling very anxious, depressed or stressed. A mental health assessment might be a good idea in this situation.

The best place to start is your GP, who can either help you directly or refer your child to another professional.

What happens in a teenage mental health assessment?

You or your child might have a specific problem in mind when your child goes to see a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. But the first interview will look generally at the issues that are affecting your child’s wellbeing.

What the professional will talk with your child about

The professional will talk with your child about her thoughts, feelings, moods, behavior, relationships and other things like school, work and home. The aim is to find out how your child’s mental health is affecting her quality of life.

The professional will start with the least sensitive issues – for example, home, school, interests and friendships. The professional will then move on to more sensitive areas like sexuality and drug use. The professional will also cover more serious mental health issues like anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, depending on the situation.

The professional might not always work through each area in order or spend equal time exploring every area. Your child will get the chance to tell his story too.

If your child has a good relationship with her mental health professionals, it will have a big impact on how well mental health treatment is likely to work for her.

How long mental health assessment takes

A mental health assessment usually takes longer than other health appointments. It might take more than one appointment, so that the professional can really understand your child’s issues.

The length of assessment depends a bit on your child’s age and maturity too. If your child is older, he’ll probably be OK with longer interviews.

The advantage of things taking a bit longer is that your child gets a good chance to make sure she’s comfortable with the health professional.

Seeing your child alone

The professional will usually want to speak with your child alone, for all or part of the mental health assessment.

Being alone with the professional can help your child talk openly about his worries. If you’re there, he might feel embarrassed about speaking openly, or might not want to talk about sensitive or private issues.

Holistic approach to teenage mental health

The health professional will take a holistic approach. This means that the mental health assessment will look at your child’s unique characteristics and qualities in relation to her social and cultural world.

For example, the professional will talk with your child about his personal beliefs and spirituality and how they might affect health. The professional will also talk about physical and mental health symptoms and behaviour.

A teenage mental health assessment probably won’t be all talk. The professional might use art, music, photos, play therapy, drama therapy, electronic assessment tools or storytelling to get your child’s perspective on things. The professional might also use formal tests to check anxiety, depression, learning ability or substance use.

Talking to you about your child’s mental health

The health professional will want to talk to you and possibly other members of your child’s family, kinship group or community to get an overall impression of your child’s issues.

Depending on your child’s age and maturity, the professional will ask your child first. For example, the professional might say, ‘I usually like to speak with people’s families – is that OK with you?’ If your child objects, the health professional will follow this up with you and your child.

After a teenage mental health assessment

At the end of a teenage mental health assessment, the professional will give you an opinion about what the issues and problems are and suggest a treatment plan. The professional will also say if your child has an emergency that needs immediate action.

It’s a good idea to make sure your child’s treatment plan has clear goals that your child and your family can achieve. For example, a goal might be getting up at the same time each morning, going for a walk each day, or keeping a brief diary of thoughts and feelings. It’ll also help if you’re positive and hopeful about the treatment plan.

Although you might want to know what has happened and what was said at the mental health assessment, your child might need some time before she talks about things with you. She might decide not to share what happens at her mental health appointments. This can be hard, but it’s your child’s right.


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