Meet Gretchen Snethen, Ph.D.—Associate director of the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion, associate professor in the Recreational Therapy program within the department of Rehabilitation Sciences at Temple University, and lead author of the AJO article “Welcoming places: Perspectives of individuals with mental illnesses.”
Gretchen’s research focuses on understanding the relationship between environmental factors and community participation; using the community to promote physical activity engagement; and developing interventions that use recreation and leisure as a means to promote independence in the community.
We asked Gretchen several questions about her study in AJO and other research she is currently working on.
Please list 3 key takeaways from your recent AJO publication:
Gretchen: (1) Individuals with mental illnesses identify places in the community where they feel welcomed as a person with a mental illness; (2) Welcoming places provide opportunities for social connections; and (3) Mainstream community locations should consider how they can be more welcoming to individuals with mental illnesses
What are the policy implications of this research?
Gretchen: Community participation, an important determinant of health, is more likely to occur in settings in which individuals feel welcomed and included. This study suggests that local policies should account for the sensory, physical, social, activity, and behavioral environments of community places in order to maximize the inclusion and participation of people with serious mental illnesses. These practices could increase the potential of communities to contribute to the inclusion and wellness of people with serious mental illnesses.
What are you working on now?
Gretchen: Broadly, my work continues to focus on ways to support individuals with mental illnesses to fully participate in the community. I am working on a project that focuses on supporting parents with mental illnesses to use leisure and recreation to improve communication with their children and parenting efficacy. I also am leading an intervention project that will support individuals with mental illnesses to access and use public transportation—both traditional (bus and subway) and bikeshare—to increase independence in the community. Related to the welcoming places work, I am working with mainstream organizations to develop trainings for staff and volunteers to create environments that are welcoming to individuals with mental illnesses. We completed the training materials for parks and recreation professionals, which is available on our website.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Gretchen: One of the motivations for this project was to explore opportunities for mainstream communities to support participation in the community. It’s not enough for mental health centers to support community participation; communities have to be more welcoming and inclusive.