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How to Evaluate an Online Mental Illness Test

How to Evaluate an Online Mental Illness Test

A mental illness test is not one thing, but a collection of formal and informal tools that offer reports based on audience-level and clinical application. In other words, depending on the context, all of the following might be referred to a test for mental illness:

  • A free online test with a catchy title that’s meant to drive clicks and web traffic.
  • A free or fee-based screening test that’s developed within the parameters of a well-established assessment resource.
  • Basic testing and evaluation protocols used by physicians and emergency responders as a provisional assessment of someone’s mental health status.
  • Protected protocols and testing materials that must be administered by a qualified clinician.

So, how do Utah residents know what’s they’re dealing with? It’s easy to get the impression from a numbered list of questions and a respectable-looking website that there is a certain amount of standardization involved in test construction and results. In reality, very few online tests have gone through the rigorous process of measuring the test’s reliability and validity.

There’s an easy trick to find out, though. Do a search for the test’s sensitivity and specificity. These measurements reveal how likely it is that a mental health problem will be missed (sensitivity) and how likely it is that a non-existent issue will be falsely reported (specificity). Unless the site is fabricating data, these types of measurements suggest rigorously analyzed protocols. For both categories, the higher the percentage, the better the test performs.


How to Judge an Online Mental Illness Test

This doesn’t mean that the vast majority of online mental health tests are published by charlatans. No doubt there are a few shams out there, but most online tests are developed by conscientious organizations or specialized clinicians with expertise in the area. Many screening tools are created by modifying or extracting some essential portion of a well-established diagnostic tool. This is most commonly seen in depression tests and the Beck Depression Inventory or Hamilton Rating Scale. As a general rule of thumb, the best way to judge an informal mental illness test is to consider the credibility of the publisher and what information is available about the test’s trustworthiness.


Find a Mental Illness Test or Health Provider

Maybe it’s not the credibility of the test you’re most concerned with but the goal or subject area. If you don’t know where to start, a mental health assessment is often a good starting point. Test screening for a specific mental illness—mood disorder, developmental disorder, other mental disorders—may be found here.

In the proper context, a mental health survey is a valuable resource as a basic referral tool, but it is no substitute for a direct clinical interview. It’s one thing to use a test as a barometer for taking action and to distinguish those behaviors and symptoms which may warrant the attention of qualified mental health services. But if you know something isn’t right, don’t rely on a free online test to tell you what the problem is. Instead, seek help from a mental health professional in Utah.


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