As part of a statewide initiative to address college student mental health, all 10 University of California campuses are beginning to implement AFSP's novel Interactive Screening Program, an anonymous, online screening tool to identify troubled students and engage them in seeking help.
This innovative, anonymous method of outreach links students directly to a campus counselor should their responses to a brief questionnaire suggest significant mental health concerns. In addition to providing personalized feedback, counselors invite students to “talk” with them online as a prelude to an in-person meeting. The ISP has been shown to be effective in reaching troubled but resistant students and encouraging them to obtain treatment services through the campus counseling center.
“By allowing students to remain anonymous while they communicate with the counselor online, the program encourages open discussion of fears and concerns about treatment,” said Dr. Ann Haas, senior project specialist for AFSP. “Surveys have shown that at least 80 percent of students who die by suicide had not sought services from their campus counseling centers. So getting these students to seek help is vital to reducing suicide risk.”
“The Interactive Screening Program, together with our counseling centers’ outreach efforts, allows us connect with students who might otherwise not seek help,” said Jerlena Griffin-Desta, UC’s director of student affairs. “Student culture is very tech driven, and the screening program is an innovative approach for improving student access to mental health services.”
Since 2009, the ISP has been used at UC San Diego’s Medical School. Results published in an article in the March 2012 issue of Academic Medicine show that in the program’s first year, 27 percent of all those who completed the online questionnaire showed signs of significant depression or suicide risk, and about half of this group received referrals for mental health evaluation and treatment.
“Preventing suicide is complicated and challenging,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, a psychiatrist and student affairs dean who was instrumental in bringing the ISP to the UCSD Medical School. “It is estimated that between 300 to 400 medical students and physicians take their own lives each year in the United States. So, engaging half of those identified as at-risk and linking them to treatment is a significant outcome. Now in our third year of the program, we have made 90 referrals, most of whom say they would not have otherwise sought treatment at this time. We are encouraged by these results.”
The ISP is being used in over 50 campuses across the country, and plans are underway to double that number during the 2012–13 school year. “This is the first time we’ve partnered with a state to implement the ISP throughout an entire university system. This has broad implications that we hope we can replicate in states across the U.S.,” said Haas.
Funding for the initiative was provided by a voter-approved grant (Proposition 63—Mental Health Services Act). The UC system decided to implement the ISP in each of its 10 university campuses after an initial conversation with the Greater San Francisco Bay Area chapter of AFSP. The Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco chapters of AFSP are providing supplemental funding to support the online screening component in each area.
More information about suicide among college students:
- Suicide is estimated to be the second leading cause of death among college students.
- An estimated 15 percent of students suffer from depression and other mental disorders that put them at risk for suicide.
- Each year 10 percent of students report that they have seriously considered suicide.