The authors explored the process of implementing a medical student-initiated program designed to provide computerized mental health screening, referral, and education in a homeless shelter.
An educational program was designed to teach homeless shelter staff about psychiatric disorders and culturally-informed treatment strategies. Pre- and post-questionnaires were obtained in conjunction with the educational program involving seven volunteer shelter staff. A computerized mental health screening tool, Quick Psycho-Diagnostics Panel (QPD), was utilized to screen for the presence of nine psychiatric disorders in 19 volunteer homeless shelter residents.
Shelter staffs’ overall fund of knowledge improved by an average of 23% on the basis of pre-/post-questionnaires (p=0.005). Of the individuals who participated in the mental health screening, 68% screened positive for at least one psychiatric disorder and were referred for further mental health care. At the 3-month follow-up of these individuals, 46% of those referred had accessed their referral services as recommended.
Medical student-initiated psychiatric outreach programs to the homeless community have the potential to reduce mental health disparities by both increasing access to mental health services and by providing education. The authors discuss educational challenges and benefits for the medical students involved in this project.