Polaris Awarded Grant for Its Behavioral Health Screening System for College Students

Langhorne, PA (June 9, 2010)– Polaris Health Directions has been awarded a three-year, $1 million grant for its College Outcomes Management System (COMS), an automated behavioral health assessment that will be used to address psychosocial problems and substance abuse among students. 

The funding, awarded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse, will enable Polaris to continue the development of COMS. The assessment will be used by college health and counseling centers to determine the nature and severity of students’ problems, support clinical-decision making and to track a student’s progress throughout the course of treatment.

College counseling centers are challenged by the growing rate of mental health problems and substance abuse among students. A 2008 study of 28,000 students in 66 colleges and universities conducted by Penn State’s Center for the Study of Collegiate Mental Health found that 14 percent had seriously considered suicide since starting college and 42 percent reported binge drinking at least once during the past two weeks.

And with tragedies such as the one at Virginia Tech University an all too real possibility, it is imperative to have a system in place to detect serious emotional and behavioral health issues before they escalate. 

“Counseling centers play a critical role in helping students cope with the stresses of college,” said Dr. Grant Grissom, Principal Investigator for the project and president of Polaris. “But today’s college counselors are required to address more and more serious problems, often with fewer resources. COMS will help them evaluate and monitor students’ conditions, enabling them to provide more effective services, and will offer another channel for reaching out to troubled students before their problems become severe.” 

Students will be able to take the COMS assessment on a secure Web site and at their convenience prior to the initial counseling session; the system will offer the option to protect a student’s identity. The system will then immediately generate a report that counselors can use to determine the severity of a student’s problems, and during discussions with the student. If a student has not yet initiated contact with a college counselor, they may still take the COMS assessment, and will be provided with a list of referrals for counselors on and off campus. 

This next phase of development will include field testing an abbreviated version of COMS for use in college health centers, and building predictive models to determine a student’s likely response to treatment and whether he or she is at risk of dropping out of college. The system will be easily integrated into existing electronic health record systems. 

Click here for more information on Polaris-COMS, or send an e-mail to moreinfo@polarishealth.com. Follow us on Facebook.


The project described was supported by Award Number 2 R44 DA023441-02 from the National Institute for Drug Abuse. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute for Drug Abuse or the National Institutes of Health.