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New online tool to help screen for students at risk of suicide

UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) this fall is launching an anonymous online screening tool designed to identify, engage and refer to treatment students with serious depression or other conditions that put them at risk of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students in the United States.
Use of a new anonymous, online screening tool will encourage troubled students who are otherwise reluctant to seek help to visit a campus counseling center.  
The Interactive Screening Program, which was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and eventually will be implemented on all 10 University of California campuses, at first will be offered at UCLA to small groups of graduate and professional school students and gradually expand to include other campus groups, said Elizabeth Gong-Guy, director of CAPS.
"We are beginning with these students because they are among our more vulnerable subpopulations on campus," Gong-Guy said. "The method has been shown to encourage otherwise reluctant students to seek treatment through a campus counseling center." She said CAPS plans to launch the program for UCLA undergraduates in 2013.
CAPS, which is located at a student-friendly site on UCLA’s central campus, currently provides confidential individualized therapy and psychiatric care as well as a range of programs to promote mental health, emotional resilience and wellness throughout the campus community.
"The Interactive Screening Program complements the broad range of services we already provide," Gong-Guy said. "It gives us another way to reach out to students using technology they are familiar with, which we believe will make them more comfortable in discussing personal concerns. It is an added pro-active way for us to be of help before a student feels in crisis."
The program begins with a brief and anonymous online questionnaire. If the answers suggest significant mental health concerns, the student is connected to a campus counselor and invited to interact anonymously online or by telephone. As the process unfolds, the student is given opportunities to reveal his or her identity.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has been developing the Interactive Screening Program for a decade. The effort in California is funded by the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act through the California Mental Health Services Administration.
The program is also currently being used on about 50 campuses across the country, and plans are underway to double that number during the 2012-13 school year, according to Ann Haas, the foundation’s senior project specialist.
Speaking of the UC launch, she added: "This is the first time we’ve partnered with a state to implement program throughout an entire university system. This has broad implications that we hope we can replicate in states across the U.S."
Although the initiative is initially funded for three years, UCLA’s CAPS is likely to incorporate it into its routine outreach activities, Gong-Guy said.
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