UC to offer online mental health screening tool for students

08/04/2012 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 10:37 AM

Counselors at the University of California are updating the way they approach student mental health.

An online survey developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will soon be available at all 10 UC campuses. The goal is to connect at-risk students with campus mental health counselors before it's too late.

The screening tool is anonymous. Students receive an email with a link to a 10-page questionnaire. The system then generates an assessment based on the responses, while also allowing the student to connect online with a campus counselor, if the student wishes.

"The more support systems you have in place, the better it will be," said Marianne Lomax, the mother of University of California, Davis, student Linnea Lomax.

Linnea Lomax was reported missing June 26 after her family said she suffered a mental breakdown while studying for finals. The 19-year-old Placerville woman was treated for 10 days at an outpatient facility before disappearing, her family said.

Although no one can know for sure whether Linnea Lomax would have used the screening tool, there is agreement among experts that having more resources to connect counselors with students is always beneficial.

"We try to have different ways of getting people who need help through the door," said Dr. Victor Schwartz, medical director of the Jed Foundation, a New York-based group that promotes mental health among college students around the nation.

Schwartz said that "in the right mix of circumstances, this (screening tool) would forestall a problem."

Ann Haas, senior project specialist at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP, said the beauty of the tool is its anonymity – it's "all up to you."

"No one is going to track you down. No one is going to force anything onto you," she said.

According to Haas, young adults are particularly worried about losing control. But with the anonymous online system, those taking the survey remain in control.

"The online format certainly appeals to young people," Haas said. "The environment is much more familiar and comfortable for this generation."

The screening tool will cost schools $5,000 the first year, with an annual renewal fee of $2,500. AFSP will provide all necessary training associated with the tool.

UC Davis will roll out the program in the fall, said UCD psychologist Zachary Ward. He said the goal is to "break the barrier preventing people from getting help."

AFSP estimates that 15 percent of college students are affected by some type of mental disorder. About 10 percent of students who receive the email will take the survey, the group said.

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