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Free mental health checkups being offered in Springfield this summer

Paul Tuthill
Several agencies that offer mental health services participated in a free mental health "check-in" at Springfield's Court Square on Wednesday June 29, 2022. The providers will offer free screenings at their local offices on the third Wednesday of each month this summer.

Local providers will do screenings on the third Wednesday in July, August, September

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts is promoting an effort to address the mental health crisis that has festered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A half-dozen mental health care providers will offer free screenings in Springfield during the next three months.

The initiative is spearheaded by Ward 8 City Councilor Zaida Govan, who chairs the Council’s newly-created Mental Health Subcommittee.

“Nobody has a problem going to a doctor’s office and getting a physical every year, so I don’t think anyone should have a problem going into an office and getting an annual mental health checkup,” she said.

Earlier this week, the providers set up tables in Court Square in downtown Springfield and conducted free screenings there for several hours to promote the availability. The providers will offer the screenings at their local offices on the third Wednesday in July, August, and September.

Each screening involves a single short questionnaire, takes about 15 minutes, and is completely confidential, said Courtney Rotzler, a clinician with Behavioral Health Network.

“Are you feeling stressed? Are you eating? Are you sleeping okay? Do you have a support network?” Rotzler said are some of the questions asked during the screening.

The stress and isolation of the last two years has been acutely felt by children, she said.

“I work with very young children and we know they communicate through behavior. Missing important moments with their peers and learning social skills, the change has been visible,” Rotzler said.

Even with a referral to a mental health clinician, it can take months to get an appointment, said Govan.

She encouraged the providers participating in the free screenings to work with one another to make more appointments available.

The Massachusetts House and Senate passed separate bills during this session aimed at addressing the mental health crisis, said Democratic State Rep. Orlando Ramos of Springfield.

“There is a requirement for insurance companies to cover a mental health exam on a yearly basis just like they cover physical exams,” he said. “There are also provisions in there to provide more services.”

A conference committee will try to produce a final bill for the legislature to vote on before the session ends on July 31st.

Limited access to mental health care, especially in minority communities, was underscored by a tragedy in Springfield in January. A 23-year-old Springfield man, Orlando Taylor III, was fatally shot by a Springfield police officer after Taylor slashed the officer’s face with a knife.

After an investigation that included reviewing video from police body-worn cameras and a doorbell surveillance camera, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni determined the police officer acted in self-defense.

Taylor’s mother told reporters she had tried without success to get mental health care for her son.

The new Mental Health Subcommittee was created partly in response to Taylor’s death, said Govan.

“There was a lot of community talk at the time, and my thought was how can we prevent it from happening again?” she said.

The mental health care providers offering the free screenings will promote the availability with lawn signs, posters, public service announcements, and community outreach.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.