Free mental health checkups being offered in Springfield 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.