Baton Rouge --- While people who rely on public assistance usually seek help for physical ailments, their mental health needs can go unnoticed. Recent studies have shown that approximately 40 percent of people receiving public assistance are clinically depressed. Left untreated, depression can interfere with a person’s everyday health and transition back into society. 

In light of this serious problem, the Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Mental Health is partnering with the City of New Orleans Health Department and the Tulane Medical School to screen and assess patients for depression as they are seeking treatment in public health clinics. The program is based on a similar effort in Chicago, where welfare recipients were screened for depression as they stood in line at the welfare office.  

“Studies have shown that people treated for depression have an easier time transitioning off public assistance programs than those who never receive the help they need,” said LDH Secretary David W. Hood. “Through this innovative partnership, we can better meet the needs of those patients who rely on us for their mental health concerns.” 

The Public Outreach Depression Screening (PODS) program is set to last from September 2003 until May 2004. During the initial effort, patients will be screened only at the St. Bernard-Gentilly Health Center. Medical students from Tulane University will administer a question and answer test designed to assess a person’s mental health, then determine whether someone appears to be suffering from depression based on the responses.  

“If someone has a positive test result, program workers will refer him or her to a physician at the clinic for further assessment and treatment,” said Warren Taylor Price, OMH assistant secretary. 

Dr. Paul Rodenhauser, a faculty member of the psychiatry department at Tulane University, said Tulane medical students are excited about the PODS program and that approximately 40 students already have volunteered their time. 

“The energy driving this initiative is amazing,” Rodenhauser said. “A cadre of six remarkably talented second-and-third year medical students have come together to create a program that will allow many more medical students to gain experience and satisfaction through the rewards of community service. At the first introductory meeting, approximately 40 students from the first-and-second year classes signed up to volunteer their time.” 

The program, which will last four years, is expected to cost $65,300. Financial support for the program comes from the three partner agencies. 

“Depression of all kinds is a larger problem in our community than many realize,” said Dr. Kevin Stephens of the New Orleans Health Department. “Providing diagnosis and treatment for these patients will help give many children and families a healthier start.  It is very critical for us to develop this program to address this special population.  Depression is linked to many other medical conditions and when this is adequately addressed, many other conditions can be treated or completely eliminated.  

For more information about the PODS program, please contact Dr. Rodenhauser at Tulane University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Neurology, TB53, 1440 Canal St., New Orleans, La. 70112; telephone: 504-588-5687; E-mail: