Vetting policy proposals for their impact on mental health.
The Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) is an analysis tool that can help in developing public policies that strengthen mental health and well-being in communities.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in collaboration with the Pew Charitable Trusts, is investing in expanding the use of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) to inform policy decisions across sectors that can influence health. HIAs allow policy-makers to consider how proposed policies or projects that may seem unrelated to health—the development of a new transit system, for example—would affect health, and could be designed to improve it.
Environmental, economic and physical health effects are often considered when shaping public policy. However, mental health—an essential aspect of healthy communities—is rarely considered. Grantee Lynn Todman, Ph.D, vice president of the Adler School of Professional Psychology's Institute on Social Exclusion, recently adapted the conventional HIA methodology to assess the mental health effects of a proposed employment policy decision on low-income Chicago neighborhoods.
Why Create a MHIA?
The goal of developing a MHIA is to ensure that mental health is evaluated before enacting policy decisions. "Because HIA's are intended to highlight the relationship between the social environment and health," write the authors of the Adler School's MHIA pilot report, "it is essential that they integrate an understanding of the role that mental health plays in mediating the relationship between social conditions and chronic disease."
The MHIA Pilot
The MHIA pilot, located in Chicago’s underserved Englewood neighborhood, was an 18-month study that examined the impact upon residents' mental health when employers use arrest records in making employment decisions.
Researchers found that the impact was significant, especially among African Americans, Latinos, and members of other communities that are disproportionately affected by high arrest rates. In addition, community residents felt young people with arrest records faced increasingly steep barriers to gaining meaningful employment, even among those whose arrests did not lead to convictions.
“Having a greater number of arrests was associated with higher levels of social exclusion, which, in turn, was associated with lower levels of community mental health," the researchers state.
Todman summarizes the MHIA findings this way: "Increased employability can help improve the collective mental health and well-being of Englewood residents. Specifically, it can increase the likelihood that people suffer less depression and psychological distress, and feel a greater sense of connection with their community."
Read the pilot report (PDF).
It’s been exciting to see the field of health impact assessments grow so rapidly. But, of course, physical health is not the only outcome that matters; equally important is our mental health and its integral connection to physical health, especially for the most vulnerable among us."
- Jane Isaacs Lowe, Senior Adviser for the Health Group, on the New Public Health blog
We're at the point where we’re just getting people to think about the mental health implications of the urban environment..."
Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health Conference, September 2012
RWJF's support of the MHIA extends its commitment to addressing the social determinants of health in a promising new direction. At the Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health Conference, hosted by the Adler School in September 2012, Jane Isaacs Lowe, senior adviser for program development, shared RWJF's approach to addressing the social determinants of health. She also posted highlights from the conference via social media; afterward, she wrote this blog post about how grantees are working to improve the mental health of urban populations.
Our Grantees Are Improving Urban Health
Meeting patients' basic needs -- like food and housing -- in order to meet their health needs.
Improving children's health by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play.Read more