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Newest supermarket service: Mental health screenings

Tuesday, August 5, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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Contest winners debut their behavioral health screening kiosk
(Philadelphia Business Journal, 8.6.14)

Call it Lucy's booth for the digital age: a "mental health kiosk" at a busy intersection in a ShopRite grocery - next to a blood-pressure machine, opposite the express lanes - and manned by an algorithm in a touch screen.

The slogan: "Checkup. Checkout."

Unlike the Peanuts character's quick retorts, this screening tool, professionally developed, asks more than a dozen questions on seven themes ("Feeling sad, empty, hopeless," "Concerned about my teen") before giving a response ("It is likely your child is depressed").

You can keep your results in a printout - and, eventually, an e-mail - and get referrals to neighborhood services. For more help, a retail health clinic is a few feet away.

An estimated one in four Americans experience a serious mental health problem in any given year, and 70 percent of them do not seek treatment.

The kiosk "can't substitute for a human intervention," but is "a tool that engages you in the potential need for services," said Joe Pyle, president of the Scattergood Foundation, who will formally activate the kiosk Tuesday at the ShopRite on Fox Street in North Philadelphia, along with officials from the city and other organizations that were involved.

People who make an appointment or download a smartphone screening app, Pyle said, already understand they may need mental health services. The kiosk is aimed simply at grocery shoppers.

Lamont Purnell noticed it Sunday - it had been turned on briefly for a reporter - after getting his blood pressure read by the machine next to it. He spent two or three minutes answering questions under the topic "Drinking more than planned." The algorithm said he had not.

It probably would be useful for "someone who may have been in denial" about a mental health problem, said Lamont, a nondenominational minister in the New Church of Redemption.

Or may just not have thought about it.

"The more you ask people about mental health problems, the more you find out about the prevalence of them," said Richard Bedrosian, director of behavioral health for Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions, who has developed online coaching programs.

Bedrosian, like others in the field, said they had not heard of other kiosks in a retail store. "It's an exciting program and a very, very positive development," he said.

Besides bringing people into treatment, situating the kiosk in a supermarket and next to a health clinic "begins to normalize mental health issues. Too often we see things from the neck up as different than physical issues," said Arthur Evans, director of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, which came up with the idea.

"It is part of an overall strategy where we as a department are trying to innovate how we reach people on mental health issues," Evans said.

Evans' department, like counterparts in other cities, is primarily responsible for mental health and substance abuse treatment for low-income people, often in crises. In recent years, however, the Philadelphia agency has moved to "reframe our work around recovery and making people better," Evans said, and that has meant engaging the community where people live, and to which they return after treatment.

More than 5,000 people, many with no professional experience, have been trained in "mental health first aid," for example. Twenty murals, some guided by input from up to 1,000 people, have been painted along mental health and substance abuse themes.

Last fall, the department posted a behavioral health screening tool at The tool was developed by Screening for Mental Health, a national nonprofit outside Boston that created National Depression Screening Day more than two decades ago and has long been involved with online screenings, always aimed at linking people to treatment.

A study of one of the organization's screening programs found that 55 percent of participants whose online screening suggested they were at risk of depression sought treatment within three months.

"We've been really thinking about how do we reach more people," said Samantha Matlin, special adviser to Evans.

When she and colleagues heard that Scattergood was running an innovation challenge for designs to increase access to mental health services using retail clinics, they decided to join with the group that had designed their tool to make a version that could live in an iPad in a kiosk.

Meanwhile, Donna Torrisi, executive director of the Family Practice and Counseling Network, a group of community health centers, had recently opened Qcare, a convenient care clinic in the new ShopRite on Fox, which serves an area that had almost no food stores before it opened last August.

She was approached by two graduate students at the Drexel University School of Public Health about their senior project - Scattergood's innovation challenge - to somehow link mental health services to the clinic.

"I'm a firm believer that you can't do primary care without behavioral health if you're serving low-income people," Torrisi said. She signed on instantly.

The city's kiosk, one of nine entries in the challenge, was chosen through a combination of professional and public votes. Scattergood funded development and installation, estimated at $20,000.

Gregory Caplan, one of the two graduate students who developed the project with Scattergood, said he had checked around the country and found significant interest in the idea from experts. The local ShopRite liked it, too.

"Making available this mental health screening tool is a part in the series of services we offer for people to live a healthier life," said Sandy Brown, spokeswoman for Brown's Super Stores, which owns 11 ShopRites in low-income areas.

Other stores, she said, are likely to be interested.