LOWER GWYNEDD >> While members of the Ambler Area YMCA worked out on treadmills and ellipticals, lifted weights and otherwise whipped their bodies into shape last week, a new health initiative was unveiled in a hallway.
A MindKare behavioral health kiosk sits outside a large room on the first floor urging passersby to “Get a check-up for the neck up.”
The first of five mental health freestanding stations to be placed in Montgomery County, the kiosk offers a quick online assessment for individuals to determine whether they have symptoms of a mental or behavioral health condition and provides resources for local treatment.
The sleek, free-standing station came about through a partnership between the HealthSpark Foundation, Screening for Mental Health and the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation in collaboration with the Montgomery County Department of Health and the YMCA.
“We are delighted to be part of this initiative,” said Claine Crew, senior program director of the Ambler Y, March 22. “It expands what we do to incorporate health of the mind into health care.”
One in four Americans has a diagnosable behavioral health condition, though 70 percent do not seek treatment, often due to fear and stigma, according to data provided by the sponsors.
The kiosk provides a safe, anonymous way for individuals to assess their mental health by answering a series of online questions developed by Screening for Mental Health. It also provides immediate, confidential feedback and referral information for local resources providing further information or treatment.
The screenings cover six mental health issues: anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and substance abuse. “It’s not a diagnostic tool, it’s a self-assessment,” said Candice Porter, executive director of Screening for Mental Health.
The referral information built into the Ambler Y kiosk is for Montgomery County resources, she said, and will provide anonymous demographic information that can be tracked by the county.
The basic demographic data will tell the county how many have screened positive for various mental health disorders, Montgomery County Commissioner and Interim Medical Director of the Montgomery County Health Department Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said afterward.
“We’ll look at any hot spots in the county and tailor resources to those needs,” Arkoosh said. It will enable the county to make sure the six behavioral health care providers it contracts with “can prioritize the services they provide,” which are available for those without health insurance.
Screening for Health serves “as technical advisors to look at new ways to bring online mental health services to people,” Porter said. Kiosks already exist in Philadelphia and “we’ve expanded to Montgomery County.”
The other four stations in the county will include: Manna on Main Street, Lansdale; Montgomery County Community College, Blue Bell; Einstein Physicians in Collegeville; and Norristown Regional Health Center. In addition, Montgomery County Community Connections will offer non-kiosk online screenings in its Norristown, Lansdale, Willow Grove and Pottstown locations.
The kiosk was piloted in a grocery store in North Philly, and the plan is to have 60 kiosks in the Philadelphia region by the end of the year, Porter said. In the few weeks since the Ambler Y kiosk was installed, 160 screenings have been completed, she said.
The HealthSpark Foundation is “working across Montgomery County for the integration of services … to marry primary care with mental health care,” foundation President Russell Johnson said. “We’re working to integrate the practice of primary care to the level of remembering there are other areas of the body that need attention as well.”
An individual can take the results of the self-assessment back to their primary care provider or seek help through one of the resources listed in the kiosk, he said.
“We can’t simply focus on physical well-being,” Arkoosh said. “We know how important it is to treat mental health.”
The hope is that the self-assessment will be as easy as going into a grocery store or pharmacy to check blood pressure, she said. The kiosks “will provide the ability to ask for and access help.”
“The kiosk is critical,” said Alyson Ferguson, director of grantmaking, Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, which developed the prototype kiosk. “It’s not about diagnosing, it’s about changing attitudes and beliefs and driving people to action.”
The kiosk “acts as a billboard to say it’s OK to talk about mental health; resources do exist,” she said. “It’s bringing mental health out of the shadows just by being here.”