The Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale was developed by Max Hamilton, a psychiatrist and statistician, in 1959. This scale measures the extent or severity of mental and physical anxiety symptoms in a person. It also assesses the impact of anti-anxiety and stress-relieving medications and therapies. It often is used during psychiatric treatment as an assessment before treatment starts and then periodically to gauge the effectiveness of treatment afterward. Hamilton also developed the Hamilton Depression Scale, which uses different questions but a similar format in order to determine levels of depression.
The Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale focuses on both psychic anxiety and somatic anxiety, which are the psychological stresses and physical problems, respectively, that are caused by severe anxiety. The test is verbal, and it consists of questions relating to the amount of psychological tension, stress and depression that is present and related physical ailments. The administrator of the test, usually a psychiatrist, then rates the patient on 14 items, depending on their answers to the questions. The ratings are numbers and range from zero to four, with zero indicating no anxiety and four indicating an extremely crippling anxiety.
Seven of the questions on the test examine mental anxiety, and seven examine physical anxiety. The seven mental anxiety topics are Anxious Mood, Tension, Fears, Insomnia, Intellectual, Depressed Mood and Behavior At Interview. The seven physical anxiety topics are Somatic Complaints: Muscular, Somatic Complaints: Sensory, Cardiovascular Symptoms, Gastrointestinal Symptoms, Autonomic Symptoms, Respiratory Symptoms and Genitourinary Symptoms. These broad topics then include more detailed symptoms that are used to pinpoint problems caused by anxiety in different parts of the body and mind.
The Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale is just one of many diagnostic tools used by psychiatrists to diagnose and treat patients. It is used on both children and adults of all ages. It also is available online and can be taken as a written test without an interviewer. Some people prefer this option because they feel that they don’t run the risk of having an intermediary interviewer misconstrue their answers and incorrectly represent their level of anxiety on the test.
Although the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale is widely in use, criticisms have arisen, with most relating to the subjectivity of the interviewer during oral tests. Others argue that those with depression but not anxiety also would score high on the test because of overlapping mental and physical symptoms. However, it has been shown to be very effective in most situations, and it has been shown to give very reliable and consistent data.