CU expands mental health services with interactive online screenings

October 6, 2011 •

The University of Colorado Boulder next week will become the first campus in the state to offer the Interactive Screening Program, allowing students to screen their mental health online and anonymously with support from a counselor.

The program rollout on Oct. 9 comes three days after National Depression Screening Day, and after a pilot of the initiative was held last spring on campus.

The Interactive Screening Program was developed specifically for college students by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and will be administered at CU-Boulder by Counseling and Psychological Services.

"Some of our most distressed students aren't necessarily coming in for support," said CU-Boulder Suicide Prevention Coordinator Amy Robertson. "Part of what's making it hard for them to seek treatment is a sense of hopelessness. This well-tested national program addresses that barrier and innovatively uses technology as a bridge for students to our services."

Campus mental health professionals initiate the interactive screenings by identifying groups of potentially at-risk students and e-mailing them invitations to complete a 10-minute questionnaire. A counselor then sends the screening results to the respondent with a personalized message.

"When issues that are particularly distressing -- like suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, eating disorders or relationship problems -- emerge from the screening, we may inform the student about our services or offer an appointment," said Robertson. "If they're not ready, we continue a dialogue with them."

During the CU-Boulder pilot of the Interactive Screening Program, Robertson targeted students who were on academic probation and e-mailed 225 invitations. More than 20 people, or about 10 percent of the group, filled out the survey -- a response rate that is on par with national averages when it comes to depression screenings.

Robertson says CU-Boulder's Counseling and Psychological Services will use what it learns over time from the program to expand its outreach to potentially at-risk students, including other groups that might feel isolated such as first-year, transfer and graduate students. The screening process will be initiated every two to four weeks.

The Interactive Screening Program is in place at 30 college and university campuses across the nation including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University.

Symptoms of depression can include:

-- Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood

-- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness

-- Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities

-- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

-- Restlessness or irritability

-- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much

-- Changes in appetite or weight

-- Unexplained aches and pains

"If you are feeling suicidal, or need to get help for a friend who is feeling suicidal, contact CU-Boulder's Counseling and Psychological Services," said Robertson. Walk-in hours are held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Support by phone also is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be accessed by calling 303-492-6766. If it is after hours, dial "2" to be connected with a mental health professional.

CU-Boulder students are eligible for up to six free sessions per academic year through Counseling and Psychological Services.

For more information on CU-Boulder's Counseling and Psychological Services visit counseling.colorado.edu/.

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