Regular physical health check-ups have been very common for quite some time. We go for annual or at least somehow regular dentist appointments, eye tests, and cancer screenings. But what about our mental health?

Recently, especially since the Covid pandemic, the debate about mental health care has increased. We cannot necessarily see when something is unusual like it would be the case with a physical injury. However, we can observe certain behaviours and symptoms linking to a potential disorder. It appears more difficult to know where to start when it comes to regular mental health checks and how to deal with the topic. 

Let’s look into why regular mental health check-ups matter first. The main benefits are: 

  1. Early detection, awareness and intervention – We may have already noticed something “wrong” before going for a check-up. During a mental health screening, professionals can identify issues in their early stages before they worsen. Just like any physical diagnosis, a mental disorder diagnosis can help get the right treatment. 
  2. Prevention of worst-case scenarios – Once professionals detect or diagnose a mental health issue, they can treat it before symptoms worsen. Early treatment of depression, for example, can prevent more severe conditions like suicidal thoughts. 
  3. Treatment of physical health simultaneously – We all know about body-mind-connection already. It concerns the interconnectedness of our body and mind, each influencing the other. Regular mental health check-ups may lead to insights regarding our stress levels for example. Knowing about a stress problem and implementing changes to lower the stress levels, can lead to lower blood pressure and an overall better body feeling. This means that mental health check-ups are an important part of our overall healthcare. 
  4. Prevention of long-term costs – Detecting any mental health issue early on during a routine check-up can prevent expensive treatment. Or even hospitalisation later on when the symptoms and severity have already progressed. Having mentioned the body-mind-connection above, research has shown that individuals who have a mental health issue in combination with a physical health issue pay significantly more for their physical treatment – this makes sense when we think about the physical symptoms and pain a mental health disorder can cause. 
  5. Improvement of overall functioning – Poor mental health care gets in the way with performing well in daily life and at work. Early intervention and treatment based on early detection can improve functioning and reduce lack of focus and absence times. 
  6. Reduction of stigma – Speaking openly about mental health issues and disorders remains stigmatized. However, implementing regular mental health check-ups, akin to physical ones, can gradually reduce this stigma.
  7. Improvement of quality of life – Poor mental health gets in the way of living a fulfilling life – when we are mentally unwell, we often tend to bottle up emotions which then impacts our way of communicating and eventually our relationships and friendships. Knowing about any mental health issues enables us to get the support we require to learn to manage and process emotions and, thereby, improve overall well-being. 

Now that we are aware of why regular mental health check-ups matter, we can look into what these look like. The answer is straightforward: Mental health check-ups happen by using a simple standardised questionnaire. These assess the severity of the disorder such as substance use disorder, depression or anxiety and are relatively brief. For example, there is the so-called GAD-7 (Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7) for anxiety assessment and the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire 9) for depression – these tests both consist of 16 questions which can be answered within only a few minutes. 

It is advised to proactively speak to your doctor/health care provider regarding which mental health check-ups they offer to find out when and where to get regular screenings going forward. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with the Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma and general mental health.