Prevention Research Centers Focus on Mental Health in Their Communities

Mental health and the management of mental health crises play an essential role in the overall health of individuals and their communities. Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) study how people and their communities can avoid or minimize the risk for chronic illnesses and improve health, including mental health. PRCs engage with their communities to develop and carry out evidence-based programs to increase the awareness of mental health as a public health issue and to benefit the communities they serve.

Mental Health Statistics
  • 163 million people live in a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area. 1
  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. 2
  • 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. 3
  • More than 50% of LGBTQ and transgender adults are currently battling poor mental health. 4

Community-Focused Mental Health Research

Group of men seated having discussion.

The PRCs have centered some of their work around improving mental health equity, examining mental health and health care issues, and improving skill and competency through training in the 2019–2024 funding cycle. In May 2020, the PRC Network also formed a Mental Health Workgroup to encourage coordination and collaboration across PRCs working on improving mental health resources, as well as identifying and establishing best practices in their communities.

The workgroup leveraged intervention models and shared resources, such as existing intervention models that were successful in other countries and established a shared database for outcome data. Workgroup members also developed health promotion educational resources, mental health toolkits, and educational programs. These tools and resources better equip communities to identify and effectively assist a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

Read more about the PRCs’ work to improve mental health in their communities below.

Early Detection of Mental Health Crises and Training

Morehouse School of Medicine’s PRC developed a “Mental Health First Aid” course that addresses disparities in access and use of mental health services in communities of color. The goal is to ensure that community members can identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders so they can help their fellow community members during a crisis. The course teaches common signs of mental health crises and discusses how to connect a person in crisis to resources. Upon completion, participants receive a certificate in mental health education that is valid for 3 years.

Assessing Competency Skills of Mental Health Professionals

The University of Maryland’s “Simulated Patient Assessment and Feedback for Mental Health Provider LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) Cultural Sensitivity” study highlights the need for an assessment of LGBTQ+ cultural competency skills of mental health clinicians who receive Sexual and Gender Diversity Learning Community (SGDLC) training versus those who do not. The outcome of the assessment will help to develop an evaluation tool for assessing LGBTQ+ cultural competencies among mental health professionals.

Leveraging a Community-Based Approach to Depression Care
Mother feeding infant baby a bottle, while cradling infant in her arms.

The University of Wisconsin PRC’s Addressing Postpartum Depression in Wisconsin Home Visiting Programs uses a novel two-generational, parent-infant relationship focused, community-based approach to reduce the risks associated with maternal depression. The PRC, along with national and international experts and partners, is researching an existing Mother-Infant Therapy Group program to better reach and address the needs of women experiencing depression in the postpartum period, their infants, and families. Their goal is to adapt the existing program for widespread dissemination, adoption, and implementation in Wisconsin, as well as nationally.

Helping Older Adults Create Happier, Healthier Lives
Two older adults working in a garden.

The University of Washington PRC’s evidence-based Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives (PEARLS) Equity, expands access to depression care for older adults in disproportionately affected communities by partnering with organizations that are already serving these communities to ensure PEARLS is adapted to meet the individual needs of each community. PEARLS is adaptable to various community needs and helps expand access to depression care in underserved communities, including rural ones. The program is for older adults, especially those who have limited access to depression care because of systemic racism, trauma, language barriers, low income, or place of residence. PEARLS Equity is a powerful tool for making depression care accessible to under-resourced communities, because organizations can tailor it to individual community needs. Individual communities celebrate their elders in different ways; PEARLS is designed to build on those strengths.

The Future of PRCs and Mental Health

Addressing the mental health needs of communities is and will continue to be a priority focus area for the PRC Program. The PRCs will continue to focus on research that is tailored to the communities they serve. The outcomes and interventions PRCs produce help them develop tools that can be used to improve overall community and public health.

Search the Pathway to Practice (P2P) Resource Center to view current projects.

  1. Health Resources and Services Agency. Health Professionals Shortage Areas. Available at Accessed April 11, 2022
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health [PDF]. Available at Accessed April 11, 2022
  3. Bauman BL, Ko JY, Cox S, et al. Vital Signs: Postpartum depressive symptoms and provider discussions about perinatal depression — United States, 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:575–581. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6919a2
  4. Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The State of Mental Health in the LGBTQ Community [PDF]. Available at LGBTQ-MentalHealth-brief-022221.pdf ( Accessed April 11, 2022