retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Boston Globe reports that a local company, Beacon Health Options, is working with Walmart to test the concept of an in-store mental health clinic.

The idea is being tested in a Texas Walmart, and the story says the “company plans to roll out the program in other retail locations nationwide, with the goal of increasing access to mental health care.”

According to the Globe, “Staffed for now with one licensed clinical social worker, the clinic offers treatment for anxiety, depression, grief, relationship issues, and the stresses of everyday living. Patients can walk in to request an appointment or sign up online or over the phone.

“The goal is to fight stigma and simplify the process of finding help, while also assuring quality, said Russell C. Petrella, Beacon Health’s president and CEO.”
KC's View:
It doesn’t seem to be part of the same initiative, but this does seem to be part of a recent Walmart theme. Just a few months ago, it filed for a patent application on a “shopping cart that would track things such as shoppers' heart rates and temperatures and how strongly they're gripping the handle … the cart would use this data to figure out whether shoppers are stressed and when they might need help.”

The idea was to be able to have Walmart employees alerted to check on customers who seem to be internally freaking out, “based on the shopping cart's analysis.”

Now, I’m going to be honest here. When I saw the story about the mental health clinic, I was prepared to make a joke about how just going into a Walmart makes me a little nuts … and so a mental health clinic might be a good idea. And then yesterday, I had an immediate need to buy some printer paper, and since the nearest Staples has been closed, I figured I’d go to the nearest Walmart, in Norwalk, Connecticut, get stressed out by the experience, and then make even more mental health jokes.

But go figure. It wasn’t a bad experience. I wouldn’t want to go there often - it is way too big and crowded for my taste - but the thing is, it was crowded. When I couldn’t find the office supplies section, I asked a nice young man in a Walmart vest, and he walked me over to it. When I checked out, I used the self-checkout lanes, and it was fast and smooth and easy.

The thing is, there was no stress. No Xanax required. Didn’t even need a friendly chat with a mental health care expert. Not my cup of tea, but the difficulty finding a parking space suggested that there are a lot of folks who would disagree with me.

And I’m sort of glad that I didn’t make any mental health jokes. The fact is that there are a lot of folks out there dealing with anxiety, depression and other issues, and who may be cut off for a variety of reasons from necessary care. Good for Walmart, taking away some of the stigma and making such care more available.