Mental health is an essential part of personal development. It can impact one's quality of life and ability to function, whether in the employment market or at home. A mental health evaluation is a way for a professional to assess the overall status of a person’s mental and psychological health.

A court can order mental health evaluations in several different situations. In some cases, the person requesting the evaluation may be concerned about the mental health conditions of the person who is being evaluated.

In other cases, the court may order an evaluation to determine whether or not a criminal defendant is fit to stand trial or has drug or alcohol dependency. In many less severe cases the evaluation may be ordered before the prosecutor agrees to a plea bargain or to dismiss the case altogether. 

No matter the reason for the assessment, it is important to understand how they work and what you can expect if one is ordered for you or someone you love.

The evaluation can also help to determine whether or not the defendant can understand the consequences of their actions and whether they are likely to pose a danger to themselves or others.

If you are facing criminal charges, it is crucial to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights and the potential consequences of a mental health evaluation.

If you have been ordered to undergo an evaluation, your lawyer can work with you to make sure that you comply with all court requests and help you understand the results of the evaluation.

If you are concerned about the mental health issues of a loved one, there are also steps that you can take to get them the help they need.

Many different circumstances may justify doing a mental health evaluation, but it's not always straightforward when this should happen. Read on to find out more about when a court can order a mental health evaluation.


What Is The Process Of A Mental Health Evaluation?

Mental health evaluations usually happen in two steps. The first step is completion of a written screening or test. This portion of the evaluation will involve questions about symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

The second step is the interview, which will look at areas such as work, school, and social relationships. This portion of the evaluation will also assess how well the person handles stress and whether they have any problems with impulse control.



What Is The Purpose Of A Mental Health Evaluation?

A mental health evaluation is conducted to assess a person's mental and psychological health. The results of an evaluation can help to determine the best course of treatment for the individual. The interviewer will ask about any substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and past mental health treatment.


What Is The Difference Between A Mental Health Evaluation And Regular Mental Health Screening?

A mental health evaluation allows a doctor or other mental health professional  to assess what is going on with a person’s mental health. A mental health evaluation is an in-depth assessment of mental health.

With a mental health evaluation, the evaluator will explore a patient's thoughts, feelings, and experiences to understand any mental illnesses like depression or anxiety.

A regular mental health screening may not be as in-depth, but it can still provide valuable information about the state of a person's mental health. The difference between the two is that in the evaluation context, the evaluator has more tools and training to get to the root cause of a problem and offer solutions for how to treat it.


Who Can Order A Mental Health Evaluation?

A judge often orders a mental health evaluation. This may be done when the judge cannot decide on an individual’s mental state and needs further information.

However, not all mental health assessments are by order of a judge. In some cases, a defense attorney will recommend it as a way to show that you, as their client, are not a danger to the public. Or, the attorney might ask for the assessment in order to get leniency in sentencing, or agreement in a plea bargain (or diversion program) to obtain mental health treatment for you as their client, instead of a conviction.  

Under What Circumstances Can A Court Order A Mental Health Evaluation?

A family court judge can order a mental health evaluation as part of a child custody case in a family court. The court may order the evaluation if it determines that there are questions related to the mental well-being of one of the parents, which may affect the best interest of the child.

There are also other specific situations in which a court can order a mental health assessment, such as if someone has gone through domestic abuse or if an individual is charged with first-degree crime.

Circumstances That Warrant A Mental Health Evaluation

Many circumstances may warrant a mental health evaluation. The most common include:​

  • A person acted very out of character for a brief period, which resulted in a legal charge against them (may have been delusional, violent, or mentally confused for a period of time without a prior history of the symptoms) 
  • A family member is concerned about the person's mental state and wants to explore whether they have any mental illnesses
  • The person in question does not have a current diagnosis for any mental illness, but a recent life event has occurred that warrants further exploration
  • An individual is experiencing difficulties at home or school, or with their social life, which could be related to an underlying mental illness
  • A person has recovered from a mental health condition and is about to be released from incarceration, parole, or probation, and the court or probation office wants to confirm reasonably good mental health is established before the release is made official


How Do You Know If You Need A Mental Health Evaluation?

There are many reasons why someone may require mental health assessments. Some of the most common causes include:

  • If a person has unusual thoughts or perceptions
  • If a person has attempted suicide and may need counseling or medication to assist and support
  • If a person is experiencing mood changes, such as depression or anxiety
  • If a person is having a mix of mental health symptoms accompanied by atypical misuse of alcohol or substances
  • If there are any other personal changes that seem like they could be related to mental illness, such as lack of motivation, change in sleeping habits, etc.
  • To evaluate a child who has been sexually abused and may have developed PTSD
  • If a person is in court for socially inappropriate behavior, a public altercation with a stranger, allegations in family court, and other court involved concerns where the judge or other concerned parties need verification that a mental health condition is not a future concern

Team of doctors putting puzzle pieces of person head together

Why Does It Matter When A Court Orders A Mental Health Evaluation?

A mental health assessment is a way for a doctor or mental health professional to assess what's going on with a person's mental health condition. In some cases, the court can order a psychiatric evaluation if they believe the person is not competent enough to make decisions that could impact their life.

In other cases, the court may order an evaluation if it concerns someone's safety. In other cases, it may be due diligence on the part of the court to assure thoroughness before dismissing a case or pleading a case down to a minor offense.  It all depends on the circumstances of each case.

Who Should Do The Evaluation?

If a court orders a mental health evaluation, they will appoint a professional to do the assessment. The evaluator will need to be licensed in their field and have experience evaluating patients with similar symptoms.

How Much Does A Mental Health Assessment Cost?

A mental health assessment costs $550 on a weekday standard service at New Directions, which will be completed in 5 business days after the interview. Rush orders and weekend or holiday services are available for an additional fee.


What Happens After The Evaluation?

After the evaluator has completed the assessment, they will write a report with their findings and recommendations. This report will be sent to you or directly to the court if officially ordered by the court, and, if necessary, other professionals involved in the case.

The report may be used to make decisions about treatment, medication, hospitalization, or other options. It may also help the court arrive at a plea bargain or dismissal of your case. The final document for court will be delivered to the email address you provide.



A mental health assessment can be a helpful tool in understanding what is going on with a person's mental health. For this reason, it's critical to understand when a court can issue an order for one. If you or someone you know needs a mental health evaluation, please don't hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.