Groundbreaking Study Reveals Effects of Public Policy on Mental Health

The Adler School's Research Shows Changes to EEOC Policy Can Improve Mental Health

Apr 03, 2013, 09:00 ET from The Adler School of Professional Psychology

CHICAGO, April 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Adler School of Professional Psychology Institute on Social Exclusion (ISE) today unveiled the results of its Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA), the first-of-its-kind study in the U.S.  The MHIA assesses the impact of public policies on the mental health and well-being of individuals and communities.

The results of the 18-month study confirmed the ISE team's prediction that updates to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policy guidance on the use of arrest records in the hiring process can help increase the employability of residents in Chicago's underserved Englewood neighborhood.

"Increased employability can help improve the collective mental health and well-being of Englewood residents.  Specifically, it can increase the likelihood that people suffer less depression and psychological distress and feel a greater sense of connection with their community," said Lynn Todman, Ph.D., the MHIA study's principal investigator and ISE executive director.

Englewood residents helped select the focus on employment policy because jobs are hard to find in Englewood, and because the arrest rates for African-Americans, who comprise nearly 100 percent of Englewood residents, are two to three times their proportions of the national population.

Research conducted during the MHIA found that many arrests in Englewood do not result in convictions.  The research also revealed that when employers knowingly or unknowingly use arrest records in hiring, whether the person was convicted or not, there can be devastating effects on the mental health of the individual and the community.

Environmental, economic and physical health effects are often considered when shaping public policy. However, mental health—an essential element of healthy communities—is rarely considered. The goal of the MHIA is to ensure that mental health effects are also considered in policy decisions are being made. 

"When Lynn Todman brought this to my attention, it was revolutionary," says Anthony Lowery, director of policy and advocacy at Safer Foundation, who served as a project advisor and supports the efforts of people with criminal records to become employed.  "It made me realize that we never looked at the big picture and examined how policies affect the mental health of our communities."

Community surveys, focus groups with residents and interviews with local employers and police officers were used to examine how the proposed EEOC revision would affect the lives and health of Englewood residents.  

The MHIA differs from other types of policy assessments because it's designed to authentically engage communities in a prospective evaluation of policies that stand to affect their health and well-being.  It is intended to create more lasting change as residents are given tools and training to monitor and enforce policy changes, and to educate fellow residents.

A national leader in the development of the MHIA, the Adler School partnered with community groups, public health agencies and national advocacy organizations to work with Englewood residents.  The residents helped create research questions, encouraged friends and neighbors to participate, were trained to conduct interviews for completing the assessment, gave suggestions for policy recommendations during town hall-style meetings, and followed up with neighbors and employers regarding the changes to the federal law.

The MHIA found that updates to the EEOC policy could improve individual and community mental health by helping:

  • Increase employability of Englewood residents
  • Increase income levels in Englewood
  • Decrease Englewood's crime rate
  • Decrease exclusion and self-exclusion due to arrest records

Kim Gilhuly, project director of Human Impact Partners, which conducts health-based analyses and addresses policies that lead to health inequities, and consulted with the MHIA team, says, "The ISE is doing the right thing in incorporating mental health and pushing it into how we view public health in a really important way... in regard to equity, community involvement and mental health incorporation."

The Adler School of Professional Psychology has provided quality education through a scholar/practitioner model for 60 years. The School's mission is to train socially responsible graduates who continue the visionary work of Alfred Adler. The Adler School offers 13 graduate-level programs at its campuses in Chicago and Vancouver, British Columbia, and through Adler Online.

Related Link:
Adler School MHIA Website

SOURCE The Adler School of Professional Psychology