What does “mental health” mean to you?
Is it the same as happiness?
Or is it simply the absence of mental illness?
Whether you are a professional therapist or want to help a friend in need, it helps to have some mental health questions up your sleeve.
You may not be able to diagnose someone who isn’t doing 100%, but with a little insight into their state of mind, you can play a valuable role in supporting them to get the help they need.
In this article, we’ll cover some mental health questions to ask yourself, your clients, or even your students. Read on to learn more.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
This Article Contains:
- What Are Mental Health Questions?
- Mental Health Questions
- 5 Examples of Common Mental Health Questions for Risk Assessment and Evaluation
- 20 Mental Health Interview Questions a Counselor Should Ask
- 10 Mental Health Questions Aimed at Students
- 7 Questions for Group Discussion
- Common Mental Health Research Questions
- 9 Mental Health Questions a Patient Can Ask
- 12 Questions to Ask Yourself
- 9 Self-Reflection Questions
- A Take-Home Message
What Are Mental Health Questions?
Let’s start with a definition of mental health – more precisely, what it isn’t. In the article The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing, positive psychologist Corey Keyes (2002) is very adamant about not oversimplifying the mental health concept, writing:
“mental health is more than the presence and absence of emotional states.”
Recapping the definition of a syndrome from the clinical literature, he then reminds us of the following:
“[a syndrome is] … a set of symptoms that occur together.”
Finally, Keyes argues that we can challenge the idea that syndromes are all about suffering. Instead, he argues that can we view mental health as:
“a syndrome of symptoms of an individual’s subjective well-being” or “a syndrome of symptoms of positive feelings and positive functioning in life.”
Mental Health Questions
The right questions can give you insight into others’ wellbeing and promote the benefits of mental health.
These questions also help you:
- Show your concern for someone who is struggling
- Open up a dialogue about their mental state
- Trigger them to reflect on their overall wellbeing
- Prompt or encourage them to seek professional help if it is necessary
To get a clearer idea of these questions, let’s consider some examples.
5 Examples of Common Mental Health Questions for Risk Assessment and Evaluation
Where do you take a mental health conversation once you’ve opened with, “How are you feeling?”
For professionals, it might help to screen your client for any disorders or distress. The Anxiety and Depression Detector (Means-Christensen, Sherbourne, Roy-Byrne, Craske, & Stein, 2006) can help you assess depression and anxiety disorders, and it’s only five questions long (O’Donnell, Bryant, Creamer, & Carty, 2008).
You may want to tweak some of these questions to make them more relevant to your client.
- Have you ever experienced a terrible occurrence that has impacted you significantly? Examples may include being the victim of armed assault, witnessing a tragedy happen to someone else, surviving a sexual assault, or living through a natural disaster.
- Do you ever feel that you’ve been affected by feelings of edginess, anxiety, or nerves?
- Have you experienced a week or longer of lower-than-usual interest in activities that you usually enjoy? Examples might include work, exercise, or hobbies.
- Have you ever experienced an ‘attack’ of fear, anxiety, or panic?
- Do feelings of anxiety or discomfort around others bother you?
These are just a few examples, and they are primarily concerned with identifying any potential signs of anxiety and depression. By design, they do not assess indicators of wellbeing, such as flourishing, life satisfaction, and happiness.
If you want to find out more about the latter, we have some great articles about Life Satisfaction Scales, as well as Happiness Tests, Surveys, and Quizzes and mental health exercises.
20 Mental Health Interview Questions a Counselor Should Ask
Open-ended questions are never a bad thing when you’re trying to start a discussion about mental health.
A study by Connell, O’Cathain, and Brazier (2014) suggested that seven quality of life domains are particularly relevant to a counselor who wants to open up dialogue with a client: physical health, wellbeing, autonomy, choice and control, self-perception, hope and hopelessness, relationships and belonging, and activity.
Questions of this type were related to feelings such as agitation, restlessness, sleep, pain, and somatic symptoms. Examples of prompts to investigate this domain could include:
- Tell me about your sleeping habits over the past X months. Have you noticed any changes? Difficulty sleeping? Restlessness?
- How would you describe your appetite over the past X weeks? Have your eating habits changed in any way?
Wellbeing (and ill-being)
These questions looked at feelings of anxiety, distress, motivation, and energy. The ‘absence of negative feelings of ill-being,’ was understandably related to a higher perceived quality of life Connell et al., 2014). Sample prompts might include:
- Could you tell me about any times over the past few months that you’ve been bothered by low feelings, stress, or sadness?
- How frequently have you had little pleasure or interest in the activities you usually enjoy? Would you tell me more?
Autonomy, choice, and control
Questions about independence and autonomy were related to quality of life aspects such as pride, dignity, and privacy. Potential questions might include:
- How often during the past X months have you felt as though your moods, or your life, were under your control?
- How frequently have you been bothered by not being able to stop worrying?
Self-perception questions were related to patients’ confidence, self-esteem, and feelings of being capable of doing the things they wanted to do. Counselors might want to use the following prompts:
- Tell me about how confident you have been feeling in your capabilities recently.
- Let’s talk about how often you have felt satisfied with yourself over the past X months.
Hope and hopelessness
These questions ask about the patient’s view of the future, their hopes and goals, and the actions they were taking toward them.
- How often over the past few weeks have you felt the future was bleak?
- Can you tell me about your hopes and dreams for the future? What feelings have you had recently about working toward those goals?
Relationships and belonging
These questions consider how the client felt they ‘fit in with society,’ were supported, and possessed meaningful relationships. Examples include:
- Describe how ‘supported’ you feel by others around you – your friends, family, or otherwise.
- Let’s discuss how you have been feeling about your relationships recently.
The more purposeful, meaningful, and constructive a client perceived their activities to be, the better.
- Tell me about any important activities or projects that you’ve been involved with recently. How much enjoyment do you get from these?
- How frequently have you been doing things that mean something to you or your life?
Read our post on mental health activities to assist clients in this area.
Other mental health questions for counselors
Another useful source of questions can be found on this website by Mental Health America (n.d.a; n.d.b). You’ll find questions about:
Depression – e.g., How bothered have you felt about tiredness or low energy over the past two weeks? How bothered have you felt about thoughts that you’ve let yourself or others down?
Anxiety – e.g., Over the last two weeks, how bothered have you been by feelings of fear or dread, as though something terrible might happen? How often have you been bothered by so much restlessness that you can’t sit still?
Mental health for young people – e.g., How often have you felt fidgety or unable to sit still? Have you felt less interested in school?
Whatever counseling interview questions you choose to ask as a practitioner, you may find that you need to refer your client to a different healthcare provider. You can help others improve their mental health by making them feel supported and ensuring they are aware of their options for continued support.
10 Mental Health Questions Aimed at Students
Life skills and self-efficacy are two key aspects of mental health, which is why these measures are sometimes used to assess the latter.
Bashir (2018) mentions several assessments used to assess mental health, including:
- The Life Skills Assessment Questionnaire (Saatchi, Kamkkari, & Askarian, 2010)
- The Self-Efficacy Scale (Singh & Narain, 2014)
- Mental Health Scale (Talesara & Bano, 2017)
Bashir (2018) found “a positive significant relationship between the mental health of senior secondary school students with life skills and self-efficacy,” suggesting that the two measures together can be used to get an understanding of students’ mental health.
Mental health questions for students
Other self-efficacy and life skills measures could give us a good idea of some example mental health questions for students. The following may help:
Academic self-efficacy questions for students
How much confidence do you have that you can successfully:
- Complete homework within deadlines?
- Focus on school subjects?
- Get information on class assignments from the library?
- Take part in class discussions?
- Keep your academic work organized?
Mental health questions (World Health Organization, 2013)
- Over the last 12 months, how frequently have you felt so worried about something that you were unable to sleep at night?
- Over the last 12 months, how frequently have you felt alone or lonely?
- Over the last 12 months, how often did you seriously consider attempting suicide?
- Over the last 12 months, did you ever plan how you might attempt suicide?
- How many close friends would you say you have?
As with all the other questions in this article, you’ll probably want to tweak and amend these items to suit your audience.
7 Questions for Group Discussion
The catch-all term “mental health group” can refer to several different things. Mental health groups may gather together for therapy or may be more informal peer support groups. You may also find yourself part of a group that’s purely for friends, family, and carers of those whose mental health is a concern.
Whatever group you find yourself in, the World Health Organization (2017) has some suggestions that will help you create a safe and productive space.
Mental health group best practices
Everything that is said in therapy should remain confidential; nothing from the discussion should be shared outside of the group setting.
Bear in mind that not everyone in the discussion will be at the same stage. Some may be new, others may be more seasoned or regular visitors.
Recognize that people won’t necessarily get along, but they all are welcome anyway.
Try not to view peer support or group discussions as a panacea for mental conditions. While they may be a great place to get suggestions or clarity, mental health is about feeling good in more than one way. Participants or caregivers may also require coaching, counseling, or medication to feel better.
7 Group questions
What questions can we ask to get some discussion flowing in a mental health group?
You may want to start with a focus for your discussion. Ask someone to share a story, experience, or step in as a facilitator with a video about the theme at hand. If you are discussing the role of social support, for example, you may have a presentation or case study prepared on the importance of friends and family.
Once you’ve opened with your story or resource, try some of these to spark a discussion (Gruttadaro & Cepla, 2014):
- How do you feel about the story you just heard? What was your first reaction? How about as the story unfolded?
- What were your thoughts regarding the signs and symptoms of this mental health issue? Have you experienced any of these yourself or in someone you know?
- How would you react if you noticed these in someone you care about?
- How might taking action benefit you and the person you care about?
- What actions could you take to help someone who is exhibiting these signs and symptoms?
- What do you believe is important for anyone to be aware of if they know someone with this mental health issue?
- What experiences have you had that are related to this story? What was similar? What differed?
Common Mental Health Research Questions
Curious to know the top research questions related to mental health worldwide? Tomlinson et al. (2009) identified some of the key priorities for researchers to look at.
The group came up with 55 questions, and the top three topics included:
- Health policy and systems research topics – e.g., How can health policy and systems research help us create parenting and social skills interventions for early childhood care in a cost-efficient, feasible, and effective way?
- Cost-effective interventions for low-resource settings – e.g., How can affordable interventions be delivered in settings where resources are scarce?
- Questions about child and teen mental disorders – e.g., How effective and cost-effective are school-based mental health treatments for special needs schoolchildren?
9 Mental Health Questions a Patient Can Ask
Engaging with your mental health practitioner is one of the best ways to get the most out of your check-ups. The healthcare system is changing, and gone are the days when a patient sat passively for a diagnosis or prescription (Rogers & Maini, 2016).
These days, arguably, medical dialogues place more emphasis on helping a client help themselves through information, education, and commitment to a better lifestyle. It’s good news indeed for anyone who wants to get proactive about their mental health. So what should you be asking your practitioner?
Before committing to a mental health practitioner, you’ll need to know a few things about the services they provide. Many therapists can provide psychological treatments but aren’t able to prescribe medication. You’ll need a psychiatrist or physician for that.
Bear this in mind, and consider the following questions when you’re deciding whether a provider is right for you (Association for Children’s Mental Health, n.d.; Think Mental Health, n.d.):
- What is your experience with treating others with my mental health condition?
- Will you be able to collaborate or liaise with my physician on an integrated care plan?
- What does a typical appointment with you look like?
- What treatments or therapies are you licensed to administer?
- Are there benefits or risks that I should know about these therapies?
- What is the general time frame in which most patients will see results?
- How will I know if the treatment is having an effect?
- How long does this type of treatment last?
- What does research say about this type of treatment?
12 Questions to Ask Yourself
Mental Health Week takes place every year in October.
It is an awareness-raising campaign that encourages us to tune in early to the symptoms of mental illness.
But, of course, you can always check in with yourself as regularly as you like.
Example questions about wellbeing
The Canadian Mental Health Association (n.d.) provides some self-report questions that you can start with; these questions cover six areas and require only agree/disagree responses. Try some of these as an example:
- Sense of self questions– e.g., I see myself as a good person. I feel that others respect me, yet I can still feel fine about myself if I disagree with them.
- Sense of belonging questions – e.g., I have others around me who support me. I feel positive about my relationships with others and my interpersonal connections.
- Sense of meaning or purpose questions – e.g., I get satisfaction from the things I do. I challenge my perspectives about the world and what I believe in.
- Emotional resilience questions – e.g., I feel I handle things quite well when obstacles get in my way. I accept that I can’t always control things, but I do what I can when I can.
- Enjoyment and hope questions – e.g., I have a positive outlook on my life. I like myself for who I am.
- Contribution questions – e.g., The things that I do have an impact. My actions matter to those around me.
According to Rath and Clifton (2004), we each possess a metaphorical bucket representing our emotional and mental wellbeing. This imaginary bucket can be empty, full, or anywhere in between, and it undergoes a continuous process of filling (through positive interactions) and emptying (through negative interactions).
We feel energized, happy, and content when our buckets are full. When our buckets run low or empty, we can easily become negative, insecure, and defensive.
Having positive, meaningful interactions and showing kindness not only makes us feel good and fills our buckets but also fills the buckets of those around us. When our bucket is full, we are more inclined to fill the buckets of others.
However, when our bucket is running low or empty, we don’t have anything left to give to ourselves, let alone others. Therefore, it’s important to show kindness and compassion to ourselves to fill our bucket back up before we can service the buckets of others.
9 Self-Reflection Questions
Elsewhere on PositivePsychology.com, we’ve written about the many potential benefits of narrative therapy. If you’re looking for some writing or journal prompts to help you get started, you can try putting your responses to these questions down on paper (Post Trauma Institute, 2019).
- Have my sleeping habits changed? Do I wake up and fall asleep at regular times? When I sleep, how would I describe the quality of my rest?
- How has my appetite increased or decreased recently?
- Am I having trouble focusing at work or school? Can I concentrate on the things I want to do? Do I find pleasure in things that usually make me happy?
- Am I socializing with my friends as much as I usually do? How about spending time with my family? Am I withdrawing or pulling away from those around me who matter?
- Do I feel like I’m maintaining a healthy balance between leisure, myself, my career, physical activity, and those I care about? How about other things that matter to me?
- How relaxed do I feel most of the time, out of 10? Is this the same, more, or less than usual?
- How do I feel most of the time? Happy? Anxious? Satisfied? Sad?
- What are my energy levels like when I finish my day? Are there any significant changes in my tiredness?
- Am I having any extreme emotions or mood swings? Any suicidal thoughts, breakdowns, or panic attacks?
It may help to keep track of your responses over time and take notice of any differences in your answers. It should go without saying that the earlier you seek out any help you may need, the better. Consider reading one of these recommended mental health books if you are still unsure about seeking help.
A Take-Home Message
Mental health is not about the absence of mental illness. When we take the time to ask ourselves and others about our mental states, we can potentially make some crucial steps toward wellbeing.
As Keyes (2002) describes, we can think of our mental health as a continuum, with languishing at one end and flourishing at the other. By starting a dialogue and showing that we care, we can help each other get the help we need and potentially begin to feel better.
What questions have you asked yourself before? And what would you add to our list? Let us know in the comments below!
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Association for Children’s Mental Health. (n.d.). Questions to ask your mental health professional about treatment options, medications, and more. Retrieved July 29, 2021 from http://www.acmh-mi.org/get-information/childrens-mental-health-101/questions-ask-treatment/
- Bashir, L. (2018). Mental health among senior secondary school students in relation to life skills and self-efficacy. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research Review, 3(9), 587–591.
- Canadian Mental Health Association. (n.d.). Check in on your mental health. Retrieved from https://mentalhealthweek.ca/check-in-on-your-mental-health/
- Connell, J., O’Cathain, A., Brazier, J. (2014). Measuring quality of life in mental health: Are we asking the right questions? Social Science & Medicine, 120, 12–20.
- Keyes, C. L. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 207–222.
- Means-Christensen, A. J., Sherbourne, C. D., Roy-Byrne, P. P., Craske, M. G., & Stein, M. B. (2006). Using five questions to screen for five common mental disorders in primary care: Diagnostic accuracy of the Anxiety and Depression Detector. General Hospital Psychiatry, 28(2), 108–118.
- Mental Health America. (n.d.a). Questions to ask a provider. Retrieved July 29, 2021, from https://www.mhanational.org/questions-ask-provider/
- Mental Health America. (n.d.b). Mental health screening tools. Retrieved July 29, 2021, from https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools
- Gruttadaro, D., & Cepla, E. (2014). Say it out loud: NAMI discussion group facilitation guide. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved July 29, 2021, from https://www.nami.org/getattachment/Get-Involved/Raise-Awareness/Engage-Your-Community/Say-it-Out-Loud/Say-it-Out-Loud-Discussion-Group-Facilitation-Guide.pdf
- O’Donnell, M. L., Bryant, R. A., Creamer, M., & Carty, J. (2008). Mental health following traumatic injury: Toward a health system model of early psychological intervention. Clinical Psychology Review, 28(3), 387–406.
- Post Trauma Institute. (2019). How to do a mental health check-up DIY style! Retrieved from https://www.posttraumainstitute.com/how-to-do-a-mental-health-check-up-diy-style/
- Rath, T., & Clifton, D. O. (2004). How full is your bucket? Positive strategies for work and life. Gallup Press.
- Rogers, J., & Maini, A. (2016). Coaching for health: Why it works and how to do it. Open University Press.
- Saatchi, M., Kamkkari, K., & Askarian, M. (2010). Life skills questionnaire. Psychological Tests Publish Edits, 85.
- Singh, A. K., & Narain, S. (2014). Manual for Self-Efficacy Scale. National Psychological Corporation.
- Talesara, S., & Bano, A. (2017). Mental Health Scale. National Psychological Corporation.
- Think Mental Health. (n.d.). Questions to ask your GP – What to discuss. Retrieved from https://www.thinkmentalhealthwa.com.au/mental-health-support-services/how-your-gp-can-help/questions-to-ask-your-gp/
- Tomlinson, M., Rudan, I., Saxena, S., Swartz, L., Tsai, A. C., & Patel, V. (2009). Setting priorities for global mental health research. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 87(6), 438–446.
- World Health Organization. (2013). Global school-based student health survey: 2013 core questionnaire modules. Retrieved July 29, 2021, from http://www.who.int/entity/chp/gshs/GSHS_Core_Modules_2013_English.pdf
- World Health Organization. (2017). Creating peer support groups in mental health and related areas: WHO QualityRights training to act, unite, and empower for mental health (pilot version) (No. WHO/MSD/MHP/17.13).
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Thank you so much for this helpful resource. As a masters student for Public Health Nursing, I found these questions helpful ice breakers for me to use for a focus-group collection strategy paper I am writing (questions were modified, of course to my topic). Thank you!
Would like to thank the writer of this article. Used some of these questions to design a mental health survey for our website project to raise awareness about early treatment of mental illnesses. Really informative and useful to raise in-depth questions and start meaningful conversations. Thank you so much!