Self-Report Measures for Mental Health
THC Editorial Team March 17, 2021
- How Do Self-Report Measures Differ From Clinical or Practitioner-Measured Tools?
- Benefits of Self-Report Measures
- Shortcomings and Potential Risks of Self-Report Measures
- Examples of Self-Report Measures for Mental Health
What Are Self-Report Measures for Mental Health?
Self-report measures are assessments in which clients can directly report how they perceive their symptoms, behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. These measures rely on the client’s responses and provide mental health professionals with greater insight into the respondents’ symptoms, internal experiences, and/or behaviors. Self-report measures also aid clinicians in evaluating where treatment should begin. As treatment continues, self-reporting tools are an excellent way for professionals to track their client’s progress, determine how well certain therapies are working, and assess whether additional or alternate treatment methods are necessary.
Clients may complete self-reporting questionnaires on paper or on a computer, or a therapist may complete the questionnaire for a client by posing questions and capturing their responses. Self-reporting tools are often used in psychological research because they provide valuable information and insights.1 These measures can also be used during initial clinical assessments and subsequent appointments with a therapist to note any progress during treatment. Some of the many topics covered by self-report measures include depression, suicidality, anxiety, control, worry, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality traits, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, addiction, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, eating disorders, self-compassion, mindfulness, and life satisfaction.2
How Do Self-Report Measures Differ From Clinical or Practitioner-Measured Tools?
Self-report measures used in mental health care and psychological research are based on their respondents’ personal viewpoints. These tools assess various symptoms, aspects of life, and general mental health issues. Self-reporting tools offer clinicians their client’s perspective on their mental health and well-being, which provides a different point of view from that of the clinician.3 Most self-assessments include specific items that signal whether a symptom is clinically significant and that help clinicians make a proper diagnosis. This type of assessment augments clinicians’ other diagnostic efforts—focused on individual behavior—during treatment or therapy sessions.
For researchers and clinicians to have confidence that a self-report measure is accurate, research must have demonstrated its validity and reliability.2 Reliability and validity are important concepts in research because they evaluate the quality of a researcher’s work. Reliability refers to the statistical consistency of a research study’s findings and how consistently the results may be reproduced under the same conditions. Validity refers to the statistical accuracy of a research study’s findings and how accurately the results of a study reflect what they were intended to represent.4
When practitioners use self-report measures to assess a person’s symptom severity, they clinically interpret the results by comparing the person’s symptoms to defined symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition; DSM-5).5 The DSM-5 is a handbook that contains standardized descriptions, symptoms, and criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. This manual allows all clinicians to use a universal language when diagnosing someone with a certain disorder.5
Clinicians consult the DSM-5 when they provide any diagnosis, whether it is based on practitioner-measured tools or self-report measures. However, practitioner-measured tools are thought to be more diagnostically accurate than self-reported ones.6 Even though many self-report measures are accurate and well established, structured clinical interviews are often considered the gold standard for identifying mental health disorders.3,6
Benefits of Self-Report Measures
One of the most significant benefits of self-report measures is that they are typically quick and easy to use. These measures allow you or your clinician to promptly track your progress, note your overall progress, and reflect any positive or negative changes over time.7 Because you can track your own progress, this enables you to pursue self-education in areas or about issues that may need more attention and work, potentially encouraging greater motivation for change. Overall, self-report measures are quick, easy to use, inexpensive, and can be completed at home at your own discretion, which may promote more truthful responses.8
Shortcomings and Potential Risks of Self-Report Measures
Despite the easy and inexpensive nature of self-report tools, some mental health professionals and researchers feel there are many disadvantages to excessive reliance on self-reporting measures. Some concerns include that individuals may hold biases regarding their experiences, may withhold certain information to be considered socially acceptable, and may not be able to accurately assess themselves. Additionally, some populations, such as children, adolescents, and those with developmental disabilities, may have a hard time truly understanding the scope of a question to know how they should answer.9
Researchers have also questioned the validity of self-reporting tools. Individuals may opt to be less honest, refrain from providing some details, interpret wording differently, inaccurately assess themselves, or exaggerate and falsify their responses. In addition, for some mental health conditions, such as depression, the use of self-reporting tools can lead to excessive rumination,10 which can delay progress during treatment. For those reasons, clinical interviews performed by professionals are thought to be more reliable in certain cases.6
Often, clinicians will use self-reporting measures in connection with other diagnostic tools and observation during sessions to appropriately assess a client’s issues and treatment.5
Examples of Self-Report Measures for Mental Health
There are self-reporting measures for overall mental health and for specific conditions.11,12 For example, your clinician may want to monitor any of the following conditions through self-reporting tools or questionnaires:
- bipolar disorder
- eating disorders
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- posttraumatic stress disorder
- mental well-being
Certain self-assessment tools are more reliable and valid and thus used more often by clinicians. For example, the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) scale is considered the gold standard for assessments of anxiety and related disorders.13
Self-report tools give your mental health professional a more personal look at how you feel about your condition and the effects it has on your life. As your clinician gets to know you better, they will be able to understand the way you, specifically, view these questions and answers when combined with the other clinical tools that they use. This allows your therapist to provide you the most individualized treatment possible.