June 1, 2023

Two UW School of Social Work PhD candidates, Sarah Porter and Kelsey M. Conrick, along with Megan Moore, the School’s Sidney Miller Endowed Associate Professor in Direct Practice, are part of a multidisciplinary research team exploring the impact of social policies on the mental health of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) as well as LGBTQ individuals. The project is funded by the UW Population Health Initiative.

Today’s rise in mental health issues, particularly among historically marginalized communities, was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-existing mental health disparities among BIPOC and LGBTQ communities were further exacerbated by rising housing costs and food prices, among other environmental stressors.

Although Washington and other states are implementing legislation to bolster emergency services for mental health care, this does not address forms of systemic oppression, such as transphobia, that can increase the risk of a mental health crisis.

Peer-run community mental health organizations funded by state or private grants provide a range of services to BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals, including respite homes, low-cost or free nonclinical group therapy and meals, for example. As this wrap-around service approach expands to meet community mental health disparities, it is important to understand what social policies are facilitating or hindering mental health needs.

The research team will concentrate on identifying the social policy priorities of peer-run mental health organizations in five states, including Washington, and will develop an initial database of related laws that can be used to prepare a more comprehensive social policy database. Other team members are Zeruiah Buchanan, Anne Massey and Taylor Riley, all with the UW Department of Epidemiology.

In May, nine faculty-led teams from 10 different UW schools and colleges received approximately $210,000 in Tier 1 grants from the Population Health Initiative, a program that seeks to create a world where all people can lead healthier and more fulfilling lives. The Tier 1 grants support researchers’ work to develop an interdisciplinary foundation for a future project to generate proof-of-concept.