$1.9 million grant aims to enhance behavioral health services in community-based settings

Graduate students in the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago will receive specialized training to help individuals with mental health issues in Chicago's marginalized communities.

Supported by a four-year, $1.9 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the program will recruit and train 116 graduate social work students to work in integrated behavioral health care settings -; locations which provide both health and behavioral health services in accessible, community-based settings.

"In these settings, social workers will work in direct coordination with primary care providers to increase access to behavioral health services for individuals impacted by health disparities," said Sonya Leathers, principal investigator and professor of social work. "Rather than seeing a person as compartmentalized, physical health separate from mental health, the two go hand-in-hand. Mental health supports physical health, and vice versa."

Statistics from the Chicago Department of Public Health show that of people below the poverty line, 22.2 percent report a diagnosis of depression and 10.3 percent report serious psychological distress. Leathers said Chicago has many service gaps with respect to behavioral health, and points to the treatment of depression among youth, trauma-related responses, such as PTSD, and the unique mental health needs of older adults as common examples.

"Our hope is that an integrated care model will be effective in addressing these kinds of needs," she said. "Integrating primary and behavioral health care increases access to behavioral health services for vulnerable clients who could have the most difficulty accessing these services."

Students accepted into the program will receive a stipend to help ensure completion of the training. "Master of social work students will complete the training on top of the regular coursework for their degree, so it's more demanding. Many of our working students lose income because of the additional time involved," Leathers said. "We're thrilled to provide financial support so our students become fully trained to deliver this type of care in impacted communities."

Creasie Finney Hairston, dean of the Jane Addams College of Social Work, added, "There is an urgent need for behavioral health care in communities that are plagued by health inequities. Through this grant the college will continue our tradition of serving the needs of at-risk communities by ensuring that there are social workers trained to function as fully collaborative partners in providing integrated health care."

As a premier institution for graduate study, the Jane Addams College of Social Work is a recognized leader in social work research, education and service.

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