Promising approach aimed at “changing the narrative” around mental health care receives $700,000 federal grant for randomized trial.

Image of African American woman talking with female mental health professional
Mental Health Meta-Intervention Receives NIMH Grant

       The problem of young adults discontinuing their treatment for mental health conditions is a documented public-health concern. Recent years have seen suicides and homicides by those who needed, but weren’t getting, psychotherapy and/or medication.

       Now a research team led by Michelle Munson, an associate professor at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, will test a novel intervention aimed at helping young adults develop a positive mental health narrative, feel less discrimination, experience more hope and ultimately decide to continue their mental health treatment.

       The intervention, in part, uses celebrity testimonials to capture young people’s attention and maintain it so that they will engage in gaining perspective on their mental health. Dr. Munson describes it as “meta-intervention” because it is “an inter­­vention about interventions” designed to increase young adults’ engagement in needed treatment.

       On February 2, The National Institute of Mental Health finalized their Notice of Award to Dr. Munson and her team for a three-year, $700,000 grant. The funds support a developmental trial of the intervention, called “Just Do You,” in New York City adult mental health programs serving predominantly minority young adults living in stressed and low-resourced communities. The clients at the focus of the intervention are in their late teens and 20s, reside in poor, under-resourced communities, and formerly were connected to a child-welfare, justice, or Medicaid-funded health system.

       Dr. Munson’s intervention is based on formative research she conducted, along with others, over the past decade examining the underlying causes of treatment dropout, and an original theory her research team developed at the Silver School of Social Work on what can be done about it.

       Working alongside clinical social workers and other therapists in a behavioral health clinic, she and fellow researchers will employ their brief intervention and, over time, assess its impact on health behavior and young adult outcomes. The outcomes for 190 clients will be examined (95 experimental and 95 control participants).

       Among the facets of “Just Do You” is use of online videos in which well-known sports, music and entertainment figures are seen discussing their battles with mental health challenges. Allowing clients to hear from contemporaries they likely admire helps to normalize their condition and it can provide hope for them in their own lives. It also helps put their treatment into perspective, and assists them in understanding the rationale and goals of mental health care. The program also addresses questions and barriers to continued treatment at the same time as young adults build attendance routines and therapeutic relationships with their mental health care providers.  

        The intervention also entails introducing clients to a recovery role model who has had “lived experiences” similar to their own, and uses strategic story-telling, or narratives, as a research-based intervention technique, to keep the clients connected to their health and treatment.

        Notably, Dr. Munson’s intervention is focused on an age group that receives less attention from researchers than do those transitioning from children’s systems in their teens and early 20s.

       “To date, research has focused on ‘transition interventions’ – namely, programs within children’s systems that serve youth transitioning into young adulthood, some of which provide extended services for individuals into their early 20’s,”  Dr. Munson stated. “These programs create temporary additional support for youth while they are still in the children’s systems.”

       “Our research,” she went on, “suggests a complementary strategy – one that outreaches to young adults who have formed tentative and initial engagement in services in the adult system, but who are at high risk of disengaging due to the failure of adult services to take into account their unique needs and orientations.”

       Dr. Munson is available to discuss the intervention. To arrange an interview, please contact the NYU public information officer listed with this news release.

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