The Behavioral Health Check-Up Program is designed to identify psychological “vital signs,” similar to how physical vital signs, such as blood pressure, are checked at an annual doctor’s appointment. Psychological vital signs include anxiety and depression, which are common reactions to stress, as well as relational functioning and coping, considered resilience factors. Screening psychological vital signs as indicators of well-being – focusing on mental health rather than mental illness - could be as impactful as programs that screen blood pressure to promote physical health (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force).
The primary aim of the Behavioral Health Check-Up Program is to develop a protocol for screening multiple psychological vital signs, using both online and face-to-face interview formats. The Program will be piloted on a culturally diverse sample of university students, with Master’s level mental health counselors, and can be used by other healthcare professionals, as well (e.g., nurse practitioners). Self-report assessments (e.g., depression, anxiety, coping) will be completed online. An individual interview will expand on the self-report assessment results and provide education about healthy psychological functioning, including referrals for treatment if risks are identified.
A secondary aim of the Program is to develop much-needed cross-cultural normative data on psychological screening instruments.
While there are annual screening days at college campuses, such as the National Depression Screening Day, no comprehensive check-up for multiple psychological vital signs, such as those proposed here, currently exists. Imagine if an annual behavioral health “well-visit,” that emphasized coping and improved general functioning, were readily available thorough a school or as part of an insurance plan, how stigma about mental illness could be reduced and early interventions could help to treat problems before they became crises, such as in the case of suicides, drug overdoses, and school shootings. The Behavioral Health Check-Up Program is a screening procedure that parallels physical health screenings, and, thus, expands on disparities addressed by the 2008 Parity Law. In other words, if an annual well-visit is offered by health insurance plans for a physical check-up, then a corresponding visit should be offered assessing behavioral health.
While the pilot program at Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus is designed as a first step in determining if the Behavioral Health Check-Up is an efficacious procedure for screening psychological vital signs, and increasing access to information and health services, such an innovation could be expanded and taught to other health care professionals (e.g., nurse practitioners, social workers), in other community settings (e.g., work places, community centers). Wide spread use of the Behavioral Health Check-Up Program will serve to normalize behavioral health and will contribute to reducing the stigma still associated with mental illness. The Behavioral Health Check-Up Program, thus, demonstrates leadership by enhancing the field of behavioral health in the development of an adaptable, transferrable protocol for assessing psychological vital signs, that could be as effective in improving well-being and general functioning as a program such as blood pressure screening has been in the medical field.
Many colleges and universities have on-campus counseling centers servicing the growing mental health needs of their students, and this existing infrastructure is ideally suited to support the Behavioral Health Check-Up Program in schools, nation wide. For example, Long Island University – Brooklyn Campus, houses the Psychological Services Center, where approximately 25 Ph.D. candidates who staff the Center could be trained each year as Behavioral Health Check-Up counselors, offering a free service to all LIU-Brooklyn students. Similar infrastructure exists to support the Behavioral Health Check-Up Program in other settings, such as Employee Assistance Programs in the work place.
LIU-Brooklyn would be involved in the pilot testing of the Program, training counselors to interpret a series of self-report measures completed online, and develop a face-to-face interview using a genogram of the student’s family structure and time-line of significant life events (see Appendix for supporting documents).
As outlined, above, the Behavioral Health Check-Up Program is easily transferable to other colleges and universities that have existing on-campus counseling centers with staff and/or graduate students to be trained as counselors. The Program requires no equipment other than access to a computer and printer, and is, thus, adaptable to other settings where any healthcare provider (e.g., nurse practitioners, social workers) could be trained to implement the protocol. The convenient, online assessment format allows self-report measures to be completed privately, at any time, while the face-to-face interview may be done in almost any office-type setting.
The outcome of the Behavioral Health Check-Up Program is the finalized assessment and interview protocol. A number of self-report measures of psychological vital signs will be implemented and tested (see description of measures in the Appendix), and the interview procedure will be refined. A procedural guide will be written that may be adapted and implemented by other sites. Approximately 200 students will be evaluated in this pilot project and five Master’s level counselors will be trained as interviewers. A final report will be written that evaluates the efficacy of the Program in terms of the stated goals.