New Video Program for Emotional Well-being of Military Families

How can a new Web-based program aimed at helping service members and their families battle mental health issues help your patients?

Military Pathways—“a voluntary, anonymous mental health and alcohol education screening program offered to military personnel and their families in all branches, including the National Guard and Reserve”—announced today the launch of Video Doctor, an online program that provides service members and their families the chance to consult, anonymously, with a video doctor from their computer about depression- and PTSD-related issues. But the program doesn’t have to be limited to only service members; anyone who is concerned about their mental health can take advantage of the information and resources provided by Video Doctor.

Designed to simulate patient—physician conversation, the program guides people through a series of questions that address emotional wellbeing and the individual’s readiness to seek help. Self-care tips and recommendations on where and how to obtain mental health care are also offered.

Once individuals have viewed an introductory video—featuring a doctor played by an actor—that explains the signs and symptoms of depression and PTSD and completed an anonymous questionnaire—featuring the same “doctor”—meant to assess risk for depression, PTSD, and other related disorders, immediate results are provided suggesting whether the person may suffer from symptoms of these conditions, along with the opportunity to learn more through Video Doctor, recommendations for next steps, and information, for service members and their family members only, about services provided by the Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs.

"By increasing awareness and understanding about depression and PTSD, it is our hope that Video Doctor reduces stigma and increases motivation to develop help-seeking behaviors," said Lt. Col. Hans Ritschard, USAF, BSC, PhD, Director of Psychological Health Strategic Operations, Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs. "The interactive nature of Video Doctor and the non-judgmental language is extremely helpful. It's both non-threatening and completely anonymous, enabling service members and their families to get a better understanding of mental health services available."

Adding to Ritschard’s sentiments was the creator of Video Doctor, Barbara Gerbert, PhD, University of California San Francisco. "The concept behind Video Doctor is based on 20 years of research and has been well-documented in helping to screen people who may be exhibiting high-risk behaviors," she said “In addition, our studies also indicate that this program results in getting more people to follow up by seeing a health care provider."

Additional Video Doctor components for generalized anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorders are expected to launch in summer 2011.

Though questions regarding military-specific issues are included in the questionnaire any patient could complete the questionnaire, putting in whatever they like for answers to questions regarding these issues, and obtain adequate recommendations from the site. Would you direct your patients to such a resource? Do you know of any similar programs that are available to the civilian population? Do you treat patients who serve or have served in the military? If so, do you feel the Video Doctor program is a worthwhile option for them? Tell us what you think. Get a conversation going with your colleagues. Post a comment below.