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Online mental health screening tool to be available for UC students

August 6, 2012
by Shannon Brys
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Will college students take the time out of their schedules to answer 10 pages of questions?

My college years are some of my most recent memories so this story by Richard Chang in the Sacramento Bee immediately caught my eye.  The University of California is soon going to be implementing a new online survey that will hopefully help to connect at-risk students with counselors.  The survey was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and will be available at all 10 UC campuses.

The university says that the screening tool is anonymous and that the students will not be forced into any treatment.  They will receive an email with a link to a 10-page questionnaire and they can take it if they choose.  Although I think this sounds like a great idea to try to help students before it’s too late, I can’t help but wonder how many students will actually take the assessment.

At my university, we would always get surveys on multiple topics: the food on campus, the dining and entertainment options in the local community, alcohol use on campus, and course/teacher evaluations. Even when students were offered an entry into a raffle for a gift certificate or free food, the response rate was never too high.

Another possible flaw with this assessment tool could be the length.  As I mentioned above, it is a 10-page questionnaire.  The students taking this test must really want to take it in order to take that much time out of their busy schedule.  After taking the survey, the system will generate an assessment result based on the responses they gave, and the student will then be given the information allowing them to connect online with a campus counselor if they choose.

The screening tool will cost the university $5,000 the first year and $2,500 each year to renew the program.  The AFSP estimates that 15 percent of college students are affected by some type of mental disorder.  The group believes that about 10 percent of students who receive the email will take the survey.

The first rollout of this program will happen this fall and only time will tell of the benefit.  I applaud UC for making an initiative to help students and to provide anonymity for those who might feel ashamed or embarrassed to go speak with a counselor face-to-face.  I hope that they see a high response rate, and maybe one day lives will be spared because of this tool.

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Shannon Brys