Being ordered by the court to get a mental health assessment can be a stressful endeavor. Since the majority of people involved in the court system have never had their mental health questioned before it can be a little intimidating. Common questions are – what is the process like? What is it going to cost? Where can I get a mental health assessment? Can I get a valid assessment online? What if I say the wrong thing in the evaluation or assessment? This blog seeks to answer many of these questions in hopes that you can put some of your worst fears to rest and begin focusing on finding a fair and reputable professional who can help you take care of the task at hand for you.
What a Mental Health Assessment is and How it May Help You in Court
If your legal predicament involves anything that overlaps with mental health, the judge or prosecutor might want a mental health assessment so they have a better idea of the context and possible causes or factors involved in your legal charge. So what that means is that things like depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress, bipolar disorder or substance dependence (or similar conditions which are considered “mental health”) need to be evaluated by a professional along with recommendations provided to treat any conditions found. Contrary to what many people fear, being ordered to get a mental health assessment is often a positive sign that the court is approaching you from a favorable position. They are concerned that a mental health condition like depression or substance addiction may play a significant role in your offense. Consequently, they typically believe that treating any existing condition is going to have a better outcome for society than simply sending a person to jail.
Some counties have what is called a “mental health court”, “drug court”, “diversion” or “intervention in lieu” program. These are all programs which seek to channel cases towards treatment of problems that may be underlying causes or factors in criminal behavior. Since the court does not specialize in assessing mental health conditions they order you to get an assessment from a qualified professional.
From the perspective of reducing repeat offenses, some courts believe this is much more effective than simply punishing offenders in hopes that they will make changes. It also takes pressure off of the local government to pay for the expenses of incarcerating individuals.
How Long Does a Mental Health Assessment Take?
Most mental health assessments usually start with a person answering questions on paper or on a computer that pertain to their mental health and overall well being. The amount of time varies with the number of questions asked but at courtassessment.net and ndsbs.com this takes about 15 minutes. After the questionnaires are completed you will speak with a professional evaluator for 45-90 minutes to discuss or clarify your answers and provide the context from your perspective about the legal incident. After you speak with the evaluator a report is created to summarize and explain if you have an identifiable condition like depression or a substance use problem, including treatment recommendations, much the same way your doctor might make a treatment recommendation for a physical condition. Questionnaires and interviews can be completed in a matter of hours. The bigger question is how long the evaluator needs to produce your report. At New Direction (ndsbs.com), we produce a court accepted document within 5 business days as standard turnaround. If a person needs it faster we can arrange for a rush order to have it completed sooner. Just call us to discuss your needs.
Can I Get an Assessment Online That the Court Will Accept?
Most courts are less concerned about whether you did your assessment over the phone or by webcam than they are about whether you spoke with a licensed professional who went in-depth enough to truly assess if you have a diagnosis, especially as it relates to your offense or legal charge. Just because an evaluator meets you in person, there is no guarantee they are going to do a good job. Likewise, many online services can provide you with outstanding service which the court will recognize and respect as coming from a professional. If you are looking at a particular service but want to make sure they are professional and acceptable to courts, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions about the evaluator's experience and credentials. You can also look up professionals on state licensing board websites to see if the professional has a valid license or any disciplinary actions against them.
How Much Will a Mental Health Assessment Cost?
Basic mental health Assessments which are accepted in most court-ordered situations generally range in the $350 to $550 range. If your situation is more complex and the court orders “psych testing” or a “psychological”, fees are typically considerably higher ($1500-3500) as you will have to meet with a psychologist and you will spend quite a bit more time to complete the testing.
I’m Nervous About This, What Else Should I Know Before I Get this Done?
If you are nervous about this don’t hesitate to call our office just to ask questions. You may want to call 2 or 3 services and ask questions. If possible, ask to speak to an evaluator. This is not always possible as many mental health agencies may not have the resources to allow you to speak to an evaluator. If you can’t speak to a live person about your concerns we recommend that you cross this service or agency off of your list, especially if you want to use an online service for your assessment. Getting your questions answered should help you feel more at ease. In the end, just try to be yourself when you are filling out the questionnaires or talking with the evaluator. If you try to present yourself in a different or better light than is truthful your evaluator may see through it, which could be reflected in your evaluation and is not favorable for you in courts.