Last weekend I took a hike up a trail I’ve never been on before. I didn’t have the familiar landmarks of my usual trail to know exactly where I was. But luckily, this trail was well marked with wayfinding signs, so I could easily see not only where I was, but also how many miles I’d logged.
Going on a mental health journey can be like this—a brand-new hike. Without signposts, it can be difficult or impossible to know where you are and how much progress you’ve made.
This is why regular assessments are so important during your mental health journey. It’s your signpost, or to use another analogy, your tire gauge to see how much pressure you have in your tires. If you have too much, or too little, you can’t go over the bumps on the trail without getting hurt.
If you’re working with a mental health professional, you’re likely to complete assessments on a regular basis. If you’re not doing routine quantitative assessments, you’re probably getting consistent qualitative feedback from them. Not unlike a guide on the hiking trail!
If you are using self-care techniques and tools on your own, you can still measure your progress within apps like Sanvello. Here are a few of the more common assessments you may encounter on your journey:
Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2)
One assessment nearly all of us have completed at some point is the Patient Health Questionaire-2 (PHQ-2). This is less of a thorough assessment and more of an initial screening for depression. You’re likely to encounter it during your annual visit with your primary care physician. The PHQ-2 is not diagnostic or meant to determine severity, but simply determine if the individual meets the minimum criteria for a mental health condition.
The next step following a PHQ-2 that could indicate depression or another condition is to refer to a mental health professional. For example, a PCP may put in a referral to a local therapist if a patient expresses they have spent more than several days over the past two weeks having little interest or pleasure in doing things and/or feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.
The Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales with 21 items (DASS-21)
The DASS-21 is a shorter version of the full DASS, which has 42 questions. This assessment was developed by the University of New South Wales in Australia with the goal of reliably measuring three of our most negative emotions: stress, anxiety, and depression.
The DASS-21 gives you a score for each emotion, and the scores fall into tiers ranging from normal to extremely severe. Although it cannot diagnose depression, anxiety, or stress, it can give an indication whether any of these issues are having a significant effect on a person’s life in the present moment.
The DASS is self-report instrument, so anyone can take it online or in the Sanvello app. It’s important to note that decisions based on score profiles should only be made by or in conjunction with an experienced mental health professional. However, it’s still a useful tool if you’re working on your own to establish a baseline and measure your progress against previous assessments. For example, we’ve heard from many Sanvello users that they had no idea they were experiencing high levels of stress until they completed the DASS-21 assessment within the app!
Maryland Assessment of Recovery Scale (MARS-12)
Another assessment we use within Sanvello, which alternates with the DASS-21 every other week, is the MARS-12. The MARS-12 focuses on recovery and resiliency by asking questions about your current state of health and wellness. There aren’t right or wrong answers, but it’s a great tool to help track your movement toward recovery.
Like the DASS-21, the MARS-12 is not a diagnostic tool. Rather, it’s a scale to help gauge how you feel about your recovery process and your confidence about getting back on track if you relapse.
The bottom line about assessments
Here at Sanvello, a clinician can look at these assessments and determine where you are at in your recovery process. This will allow further exploration, assessment, and effective treatment planning to work towards obtaining your goals. This may include coaching, therapy, and medication management within Sanvello, or perhaps a referral to better assist with your needs.
No matter what your scores are, it’s important to know that there are techniques, tools, and people available to help you improve them. Whether you’re using an app like Sanvello, working with a mental health professional, or both, there are resources to help you feel better than you are right now. Those resources, combined with your inner strength and motivation, can move you forward—and that is what’s most important.
By Heather Woodward, LMHC
Heather has been a clinical therapist for 19 years, licensed as a mental health clinician. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, or a transition in life, Heather helps alleviate the symptoms or behaviors which may be affecting your working or personal relationships. She offers CBT, DBT, ACT, family systems, solution-focused, and person-centered therapy. Outside of work, Heather enjoys spending time with her two children, hiking, biking, swimming, and beaching.