September 27, 2019

Adults with severe and persistent mental illness die 15 to 25 years earlier than those without serious mental illness. They also experience more than twice the rate of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. 

In 2017, a $2 million donation kick-started the Many Minds Collaborative, a groundbreaking partnership that tapped the expertise of the UW School of Social Work, UW Psychiatry, and King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. Drawing on research that showed how integrating medical, behavioral health and social services can greatly improve health outcomes, the team set out to develop and deploy interventions to reduce health disparities for those with chronic health conditions.

Now, another tool to enhance services for adults with serious mental illness is being funded by a two-year $275,000 grant from Many Minds. The project is led by School Assistant Professor Ryan Petros, whose research specialties include recovery for adults with serious mental illness, community integration and homelessness. 

The new project links instruction of MSW students with the workforce development of mental health professionals in King County’s behavioral health agencies. At its core is motivational interviewing, a collaborative-counseling method that helps people weigh the pros and cons of their behaviors based on how they envision their future health and well-being—not on a provider’s prescribed treatment or hoped-for outcomes. Research shows that patients who participate in their own treatment plan improve their chances for recovery. 

Petros recruited 20 MSW students in the School’s mental-health concentration and 20 King County field supervisors. “Field supervisors bridge the gap between classroom theory and real-world application, so their training is critical to the student experience,” says Petros. Half the supervisors will receive an enhanced version of the training with ongoing coaching and support that fosters clinical competency and improves supervisory skills.  

The research team will measure the feasibility and effectiveness of the two groups based on criteria that include competency in motivational interviewing and recovery knowledge. The data will be used to refine the training protocol. 

“Our short-term goal is to create a training manual that contributes to education- and practice-based scholarship,” says Petros, “but our long-term goal is to enhance services and advance the lives of adults in King County with serious mental illness.”