Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

To determine a diagnosis and check for any related complications, you may have these exams and tests:

  • Physical exam. Your doctor will try to rule out physical problems that could cause your symptoms.
  • Lab tests. These may include a check of your thyroid function or a screening for alcohol and drugs, for example.
  • Psychological evaluation. A doctor or mental health provider will talk to you about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to help answer these questions.

Determining which mental illness you have

Sometimes it's difficult to find out which particular mental illness may be causing your symptoms. But taking the time and effort to get an accurate diagnosis will help determine the appropriate treatment.

The defining symptoms for each mental illness are detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Mental health providers use this manual to diagnose mental conditions, and insurance companies use it to reimburse for treatment. To be diagnosed with a particular mental illness, you must meet the criteria listed in the DSM.

Classes of mental illness

The main classes of mental illness are:

  • Mood disorders. These include disorders that affect how you feel emotionally, such as the level of sadness and happiness. Examples include depression and bipolar disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by the anticipation of future danger or misfortune, accompanied by feeling ill at ease. Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Substance-related disorders. These include problems associated with the misuse of alcohol and illegal or legal drugs.
  • Psychotic disorders. Psychotic disorders cause detachment from reality (delusions, paranoia and hallucinations). The most notable example is schizophrenia, although other classes of disorders can be associated with detachment from reality at times.
  • Cognitive disorders. Cognitive disorders affect your ability to think and reason. They include delirium, dementia and memory problems. Alzheimer's disease is an example of a cognitive disorder.
  • Developmental disorders. This category covers a wide range of problems that usually begin in infancy, childhood or the teenage years. They include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities.
  • Personality disorders. A personality disorder involves a lasting pattern of emotional instability and unhealthy behavior that causes problems in your life and relationships. Examples include borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
  • Other disorders. These include disorders of impulse control, sleep, sexual functioning and eating. Also included are dissociative disorders, in which your sense of self is disrupted; somatoform disorders, in which there are physical symptoms with no clear cause; adjustment disorder, in which you have trouble coping during a stressful life event; and mental disorders that are due to general medical conditions.
Sep. 15, 2012