Dec. 9, 2003
On-Line Mental Health
Web-based mental health screening has been a big hit at Calvin College in the two months it's been available.
In fact, since being launched in mid-October the on-line screening tools have exceeded all expectations with over 400 students having used the depression screening tool, 200 taking the anxiety screening, 150 using the eating disorder screening and 100 doing the alcohol screening.
Randy Wolthuis, director of the Broene Counseling Center at Calvin, says the numbers have amazed the Center's staff.
"We've been doing depression screening for a long time," says Wolthuis, "but we would do it with pencil and paper, setting up booths for a week on campus and having students stop by to do the screening. We'd get maybe 30 to 50 during that week. Now we're using essentially the same (screening) tool, but it's on-line, it's private, it can be done anytime of day or night. And the numbers have gone up 10 times."
Wolthuis says Calvin is part of a national trend for collegiate counseling centers, pointing to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education (December 5, 2003) story on the topic of student depression.
That story featured a number of nation-wide websites that are attempting to meet college students where they hang out: on-line. Services such as campusblues.com, ulifeline.org and mentalhealthscreening.org (the site Calvin uses) all are recent resources geared toward college students.
Kevin Kruger, associate executive director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators told the Chronicle of Higher Education that colleges are wise to utilize as many different tools as they can in assisting their students.
"Counseling centers," he said, "are going to have to plug into national resources - not to replace campus services but to supplement them."
Wolthuis agrees wholeheartedly.
When Calvin students take the on-line screenings they will get one of three "results." One basically tells the student they're okay; there's no depression, no eating disorder, no anxiety, no alcoholism. A second tells the student that there is a possibility and they should consider seeing a Broene Counseling Center counselor. The third says simply that it's likely that there is a problem and strongly recommends that the student see a counselor.
Wolthuis says students are taking the screenings seriously. Some have come in to meet with a counselor with a print-out of their screening in hand. He's quick to add though that unless students volunteer to a counselor that they've done the screening there is no way for him or his staff to know that.
"This thing is completely anonymous," he says. "We wouldn't have it any other way. We get aggregate reporting data on how many students have taken the screenings, but nothing on individuals. And that's good. Students need to know that that first step - taking the screening - is anonymous. The next step - seeing a counselor - is up to them too."
Wolthuis says that once students decide to see a counselor they have access to a fantastic resource.
Wolthuis is a licensed psychologist, marriage counselor and social worker with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology at Michigan State. He came to Calvin in 2000 after having spent the previous 11 years at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, including a four-year stint as corporate director.
He heads up a team of five counselors that has over 60 years of experience in providing counseling and psychotherapy.