Mental health screenings come out in the open

By Janine Weisman
December 1st, 2015

G“et a CHECK-UP from the NECK UP?”

The sign next to the sleek looking kiosk in the first floor lobby of the rec center at Drexel University in Philadelphia invites students, faculty and staff and the general public to take anonymous, two-minute screenings to test for depression, anxiety, alcohol use, eating disorders or other mental health concerns.

The MindKare kiosk by Screening for Mental Health, a nonprofit organization in Wellesley Hills, Mass., takes mental health screenings into public view just like blood-pressure check-ups at the local pharmacy. Installed last May, the Drexel rec center kiosk is the first such public screening tool of its kind at a college or university.

The screenings take students through a series of questions asking them how often they experience certain symptoms. Answers that are concerning enough lead to tips and information on places to go for help. Answers that suggest an emergency will prompt a message to call 911.

“I’m a big proponent of it,” said Paul Furtaw, Psy.D., Drexel’s associate director of counseling services.

“This is another way to demystify and just to legitimize the need for help,” Furtaw added. “It’s not such a scary monster if you can see the questions you’re going to be asked without ever having to step across the threshold.”

Screening for Mental Health kiosks has already installed 16 kiosks in public locations, many in the Philadelphia area. The Scattergood Foundation funded the kiosk at Drexel’s rec center and a second at the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th St. Family Health Services Center for use by patients and the general public.

Screening for Mental Health Executive Director Candice Porter, LICSW, says the MindKare kiosks reduce stigma and increase help-seeking behaviors, although they do not provide medical advice and are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Even those whose answers don’t suggest a serious problem will receive information on wellness and resiliency and steps to take to maintain a healthy body and mind.

Screening for Mental Health partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services and won the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation’s annual Design Challenge in 2014.

That led to the first iteration of the public screening kiosk to be placed in a QCare clinic inside a ShopRite grocery in North Philadelphia for several months last year.

The screenings Drexel’s rec center kiosk offers are the same screenings students can access freely on the university Counseling Center Web site. Nearly 1,000 screenings were given at the kiosk and online between May and October with a third of those attributed to people using the rec center kiosk. Of those who scored positive for symptoms, anxiety followed closely by depression and alcohol were the top three mental health concerns.

“I’m pretty confident that it will be another gateway by which people tip their toe in the shallow end of the pool if you will, because that’s really what goes on with students,” Furtaw said, noting that students who need help often wait a long time before seeking it.

The kiosk has wheels and is wireless. “We can take it on the road,” Furtaw said. “We had our student activities fair in September, and we brought it out on the Quad and had folks do screenings out on the Quad.”

Porter said talks are ongoing with other higher education institutions and community healthcare networks interested in buying a kiosk.

“We’re not making a profit off of this,” Porter said. “Everything is truly supporting the program, which is why we’re slow and steady right now to make sure we don’t run off and hire 20 staff and make a ridiculous price tag to these.”

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