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DIY electronic mental health screenings come to Montgomery Country

Mental health screening kiosk

HealthSpark Foundation

We may be used to using automated kiosks to pay for groceries, take out cash, or even check our blood pressure, but what about normalizing this kind of service for mental health screenings, too? The HealthSpark Foundation, with partners Screening for Mental Health and the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, hopes to increase access to mental health services while reducing the stigma many people feel when they try to address mood disorders.

This month, the organization is debuting five MindKare kiosks in Montgomery County. This comes after two city pilots, one at a North Philadelphia Shop-Rite and another on the Drexel University campus.

According to the partners, the kiosks are "freestanding stations that offer a quick way for individuals to check on their mental and behavioral health by providing online self-assessments." The whole process can take as little as three minutes, explains HealthSpark President and CEO Russell Johnson, who likens the experience of using the touch-screen stations to visiting the ATM.

Evidence-based questions (developed through Screening for Mental Health) that gauge subjects’ feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts result in geographically customized recommendations for follow-up. This includes a list of accessible mental healthcare providers, or encouragement to bring the results of the assessment to a primary care doctor. If a user reveals suicidal thoughts, the kiosk can immediately provide a hotline number for help. Some kiosks enable users to print their results; others offer the option for them to be e-mailed to the user.

As a condition of installing the kiosks, one staffer from the hosting organization who works within view of the kiosk must receive training in mental health first aid. When needed, he or she can be a calming and well-informed presence for a person suffering from severe anxiety or suicidal thoughts, until help arrives.

The program evolved from a Scattergood design challenge a few years ago -- Drexel public health students won with a concept for a mental health-screening kiosk.

"Their interest…was to reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health conditions and create access," explains Johnson.

Dollars from the design challenge win led to the development of the kiosks with help from Screening for Mental Health. After the initial success of the pilot in Philadelphia, HealthSpark came on board, along with the Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health, to try suburban placements.

According to Johnson, these locations were determined by factors such as geographic diversity and high pedestrian volume. You can find them at the Ambler YMCA, Manna on Main Street in Lansdale, Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Einstein Physicians Collegeville and the Norristown Regional Health Center.

And more kiosks may be coming. Johnson says that Screening for Mental Health, a national organization, is already getting inquiries about installing the kiosks across the country.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Russell Johnson, HealthSpark Foundation
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