What data are recorded regarding patient thought process during a Mental Status Examination (MSE)?

Updated: Sep 24, 2020
  • Author: Jeffrey S Forrest, MD; Chief Editor: David Bienenfeld, MD  more...
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Record the patient's sex, age (apparent or stated), race, and ethnic background. Document the patient's nutritional status by observing the patient's current body weight and appearance. Remember recording the exact time and date of this interview is important, especially since the mental status can change over time such as in delirium.

Recall how the patient first appeared upon entering the office for the interview. Note whether this posture has changed. Note whether the patient appears more relaxed. Record the patient's posture and motor activity. Record the patient's dress and grooming. If nervousness was evident earlier, note whether the patient still seems nervous. Record notes on grooming and hygiene. Most of these documentations on appearance should be a mere transfer from mind to paper because mental notes of the actual observations were made when the patient was first encountered. Record whether the patient has maintained eye contact throughout the interview or if he or she has avoided eye contact as much as possible, scanning the room or staring at the floor or the ceiling.

Attitude toward the examiner

Next, record the patient's facial expressions and attitude toward the examiner. Note whether the patient appeared interested during the interview or, perhaps, if the patient appeared bored. Record whether the patient is hostile and defensive or friendly and cooperative. Note whether the patient seems guarded and whether the patient seems relaxed with the interview process or seems uncomfortable. This part of the examination is based solely on observations made by the health care professional.


The mood of the patient is defined as "sustained emotion that the patient is experiencing." Ask questions such as "How do you feel most days?" to trigger a response. Helpful answers include those that specifically describe the patient's mood, such as "depressed," "anxious," "good," and "tired." Elicited responses that are less helpful in determining a patient's mood adequately include "OK," "rough," and "don't know." These responses require further questioning for clarification.

Establishing accurate information pertaining to the length of a particular mood, if the mood has been reactive or not, and if the mood has been stable or unstable also is helpful.


A patient's affect is defined in the following terms: expansive (contagious), euthymic (normal), constricted (limited variation), blunted (minimal variation), and flat (no variation). A patient whose mood could be defined as expansive may be so cheerful and full of laughter that it is difficult to refrain from smiling while conducting the interview. A patient's affect is determined by the observations made by the interviewer during the course of the interview. The patient's affect is noted to be inappropriate no connection is clear between what the patient is saying and the emotion being expressed.


Document information on all aspects of the patient's speech, including quality, quantity, rate, and volume of speech during the interview. Paying attention to patients' responses to determine how to rate their speech is important. Some things to keep in mind during the interview are whether patients raise their voice when responding, whether the replies to questions are one-word answers or elaborative, and how fast or slow they are speaking. Record the patient's spontaneous speed in relation to open-ended questions.

Thought process

Record the patient's thought process information. The process of thoughts can be described with the following terms: looseness of association (irrelevance), flight of ideas (change topics), racing (rapid thoughts), tangential (departure from topic with no return), circumstantial (being vague, ie, "beating around the bush," giving inordinately long responses that only eventually answer the stated question), word salad (nonsensical responses, ie, jabberwocky), derailment (extreme irrelevance), neologism (creating new words), clanging (rhyming words), punning (talking in riddles), thought blocking (speech is halted), and poverty (limited content).

Throughout the interview, very specific questions will be asked regarding the patient's history. Note whether the patient responds directly to the questions. Document whether the patient deviates from the subject at hand and has to be guided back to the topic more than once, or if they are redirectable in the event that they should wander off-topic. Take all of these things in to account when documenting the patient's thought process.

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