The Mental Status Examination or “MSE”, also known as a mental status test is an important clinical assessment in the psychiatric evaluation of a patient. The purpose of the MSE is to get a detailed cross-sectional description of the patient’s mental state which when coupled with the patients biographical and historical information enables the physician to make a good diagnosis of the patient and his mental status. This method of testing can be traced back to Karl Jaspers approach to psychiatry, in which the best way to understand a patient's experience is through his or her own description.
There are many different versions of the mental status test. Most of the tests are designed such that they follow a format based on the anatomy of the brain, beginning the test with global brain function, and then going on to check how well the patient performs the rest of the exam. This will include alertness, attention span, and cooperation. A few standard questions are asked so as to make it easy to differentiate between different patients or with the same patient to check for global memory, dominant language, additional parietal dysfunction, and frontal dysfunction.
On beginning the mental status test, the health care provider will check for the patient’s age, dress, general level of discomfort, and grooming. To check the patient’s orientation the patient’s name, age, job, address, and hobbies are enquired about. Once this is done the attention span is checked. This is done by checking a patient’s ability to finish a thought, a conversation or by checking if the patient has the ability to follow directions correctly. Then the patient may be asked questions relating to recent happenings in his or her life, or in the world. Incidents relating to the patients childhood, school or family may be asked as well to gauge the recent memory span of the patient and remote memory. Word comprehension is checked by asking the patient to name the various everyday items in the room. Judgment and problem solving ability is gauged by asking questions like what the patient’s reaction would be were he to be stopped by a police officer with lights flashing, or if the patient found a wallet containing a driver’s license on the ground.
Normal results of a mental status test would mean that the patient was able to answer most of the question relating to orientation correctly; also he should have a normal attention span, normal recent & remote memory, and normal word comprehension, reading or writing. If medical practitioner feels that any of these were not answered satisfactorily, then treatment may be necessary for the patient.