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Supporting Mental Health for All: The Importance of Community Engagement

November 16, 2021

What does supporting mental health for all really mean? A difficult and complex question that I have reflected on, and while there is not one simple answer, at its core it involves a commitment to person-centeredness. Our World Mental Health Day discussion focused on the development, implementation, evaluation, and implications of How Right Now, a national, research-based communications campaign aimed to promote and strengthen the emotional well-being and resiliency of high-risk populations adversely affected by COVID-19-related stress, grief, and loss.

As a health psychology Ph.D. student whose research focuses on interpersonal dynamics in close relationships and reducing health disparities, I was struck by the campaign’s reach of over 430 million people to date. Adopting a person-centered approach is recognized as the ideal gold standard in the field of psychology and prevention science research, yet many studies and initiatives to date still fail to consider the importance of tailoring research and implementation strategies to context.

A majority of the campaign’s success can be attributed to the culturally responsive formative research conducted to understand the target audiences’ “most urgent emotional and behavioral health concerns, perceptions of resilience, emotional health resource needs, and trusted sources and channels to receive emotional health resources and support.” Panelists discussed this process in-depth and how partner listening sessions, online focus groups, and partner needs assessment calls gave people in these targeted high-risk groups a platform to voice their specific needs and concerns. This enabled researchers to better understand context and build materials that were reflective of the perspectives of people in their target populations, all of which increased the campaign’s reach. 

How much more successful would efforts toward health prevention and promotion be if all approaches to research, policy, and practice prioritized understanding the full reality and lived experiences of individuals? Wouldn’t this be a more effective way to address health disparities and improve health and well-being for all? Learning about the campaign’s development approach further solidified what has been emphasized throughout my training: in order to improve population health and well-being, we have to look beyond exposure and disease and consider context and the actual voices of the community we’re studying. As a researcher, I know I have the power to generate new knowledge and as such, it is my responsibility to acknowledge this power and ensure the knowledge I am creating or implications I am proposing isn’t skewed by bias or a lack of understanding that could negatively affect marginalized communities. This can only be done by involving the actual community members affected in the knowledge generation process.

In reflecting on the panelists’ discussion of what was learned from the research process that informed How Right Now, there were two points that I found particularly noteworthy.

  • First, public-private partnerships, like the one that developed this campaign, can create powerful mechanisms for addressing larger scale health issues. They can help overcome funding barriers associated with conducting rigorous research to inform campaigns and other initiatives and should be utilized more often to promote population health.
  • Second, and most importantly, we need to meet people where they are, focus on being culturally sensitive, and move away from taking an overly prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ approach. This point resonated with me because it echoes the importance of utilizing a person-centered approach that considers context and culture. Whether it be in the form of health campaigns or receiving one-on-one care, it is crucial to improving behavioral health as well as global population health.

The Global Alliance co-sponsored a virtual live discussion with APHA Mental Health Section and APHA Public Health Social Work Section on October 12, 2021, entitled How Right Now: Supporting Mental Health for All. To view a video recording of the live discussion on our YouTube channel click here.

To learn more about the How Right Now campaign, check out the discussion slides and resources below.

For questions about the campaign, contact vog.c1718966973dc@wo1718966973nthgi1718966973rwoH1718966973.

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