CREDIT: Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Disability Services
Philadelphia residents can now check their mental health in the grocery store, thanks to an interactive screening kiosk known as “Checkup and Checkout” that officials unveiled earlier this month. This kiosk, the first of its kind, collects data about one’s mental state from responses to more than a dozen questions. Shoppers receive a printout or email of results and referrals to neighborhood services after completing the questionnaire.
“The more you ask people about mental health problems, the more you find out about the prevalence of them,” Richard Bedrosian, a director of behavioral health for pharmaceutical manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, told the Inquirer.
While more than 61 million Americans suffer from a mental illness, less than 30 percent of them seek mental health care, according to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. People who do not seek treatment for their mental disorders will most likely have fewer opportunities to enjoy school, work, and social activities. Members of that group often also don’t have health insurance that adequately covers mental health services. These factors ultimately further a belief among the afflicted that their situation will not improve.
Even with a growing repository of information about mental disorders, myths about various illnesses — particularly schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder — still make many people reluctant to seek treatment. Data gathered in the General Social Survey between 1996 and 2006 found that nearly 80 percent of people said they didn’t want an alcoholic to marry into their family and nearly 40 percent said they didn’t want a schizophrenic as their neighbor. Three out of four people polled in the survey also said they thought that those with either illness would lash out violently.
Misconceptions about violence among the mentally ill have also fueled efforts to criminalize mental disorders in recent years. States slashed mental health by nearly $2 billion between 2009 and 2011, according to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Meanwhile, the mental patient population in U.S. prisons has more than quadrupled between the late 1990s and mid-2000s. A Treatment Advocacy Center report in April highlighted a ten-to-one ratio of mental health patients in prison versus those in treatment facilities.
“We’ve basically gone back to where we were 170 years ago,” Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, told Kaiser Health News. “We are doing an abysmal job of treating people with serious mental illnesses in this country. It is both inhumane and shocking the way we have dumped them into the state prisons and the local jails.”
However, the ascent of the nation’s newest interactive mental health care tool shows that Americans and medical industry leaders have become more conscious of the need for mental health services. The effort could also help normalize treatment for these type of conditions.
“Having people check up on their mental health and doing it in a public setting helps to reduce stigma and raise awareness. You’re saying that this community really cares about an individual’s mental health,” Michelle Holmberg, the director of programs at Screening for Mental Health Inc (SMH), one of the partners involved with the kiosk project, told Medscape Medical News.
There have been other recent signs of progress, like the increase in use of mental health services among young people who stayed on their parents’ insurance because of a provision of the Affordable Care Act. The recent death of award winning actor and comedian Robin Williams has also brought about social media campaigns to spread awareness about mental health resources. More people have become vocal about their bouts with depression and other mental ailments online and offline.