This semester, Counseling and Psychological Services introduced an anonymous online self-screening tool for students to evaluate their mental health.
Students can take one of several quizzes to determine if they should seek help for any mental health concerns. The quizzes cover a range of issues, such as depression, eating disorders, substance or alcohol use, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. The design is meant to be easy to access, simple to use and helpful in referring users to the resources available at CAPS, said CAPS Interim Co-Director Allyson Brathwaite-Gardner.
“Students who use it will be more aware of the state of their mental health — hopefully sooner than when they are in crisis,” she said.
To start the screening, users select a statement that fits their recent thoughts or behaviors and answer a short set of questions about themselves and their feelings. The website then gives possible explanations for their thoughts and behaviors before providing information to assist them in seeking help, though the results are meant to be educational instead of diagnostic, said CAPS Interim Co-Director Jackie Twitchell.
Since the tool was launched, about 30 students have taken an online evaluation each week, but as many as 200 students have used the online evaluation in a single week, Brathwaite-Gardner said. The number fluctuates as more students discover the resource and as different stressors factor into students’ own perceptions of their mental health.
Midterm season, now in full swing, tends to induce more students to seek help in understanding the state of their mental health. “There’s been a lot of research that shows that a person’s mental health affects their ability to concentrate and thrive academically,” Twitchell said.
Before the mental health screening website, the University offered a general online self-evaluator produced by ULifeline, an organization that provides mental health resources online to universities around the country.
The mental health community council, comprised of both students and faculty members, did research on mental health screening tools and helped determine the potential features of the new website. The council structured the website to be “more friendly and easier to use” than ULifeline’s evaluator and proposed it last fall, Twitchell said.
“Sometimes it can be intimidating and hard for people to get an appointment with CAPS,” said Vandhana Ravi ’18, student researcher at Health Services. “If that seems like a scary step, then this is a way for a student to help themselves in an easy anonymous way.”
The anonymous component may help some students concerned about stigma surrounding mental health take the first step in addressing potential difficulties.
“It’s important for everyone to check in on their mental health even though, unfortunately, doing that is looked down upon or stigmatized,” Ravi said.
Over time, CAPS will be able to use the website to track trends in students’ mental health and understand how resources need to be aligned with students’ needs, Brathwaite-Gardner said.