Research Shows Living Environment May Play Role in Mental Health Care Access

Apartment building

An individual’s mental health is affected by many psychological, social, and societal factors. Where you live also has a significant impact to an individual’s mental health outcomes, suggests   recent research from the Department of Community and Behavioral Health (CBH). 

Neighborhood-level determinants such as geographical location, socioeconomic characteristics, and access to public spaces can perpetuate disparities or treatment engagement, suggest WSU scientists. Their work with the Promoting Research Initiatives in Substance Use and Mental Health (PRISM) Collaborate examines and supports community mental health with a focus on space as a structural mechanism. 

Examining How Neighborhoods Influence Larger Systems of Care

Though receiving specialized early intervention services for psychosis improves quality of life and decreases an individual’s risk of homelessness for many individuals, one’s neighborhood may help determine whether those specialized services are truly accessible.  

Research shows that connecting individuals to the necessary support services early, before their symptoms become severe, can play a significant role in better health outcomes. There are persistent racial and social disparities in specialty care utilization, however, Assistant Professor Oladunni Oluwoye, PhD, believes location could play a role in perpetuating these disparities. 

Funded by an R34 from the National Institute of Mental Health, Oluwoye’s work examines geographic disparities in the availability and accessibility of Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) programs for early psychosis. 

It is important that behavioral health research moves beyond treatments that benefit individual patients to also consider environment-health interactions. This important work will support the design of more effective public health strategies and community level interventions, directed at eliminating health disparities.

Oluwoye’s study explores how neighborhood characteristics, such as whether they are urban, rural, or considered low-socioeconomic, can lead to disparities in access and service utilization. These neighborhood-level determinants also influence inequities in larger systems of care such as policies related to the distribution of services and the placement of organizations made available to individuals. 

Neighborhood-level determinants have also been linked to the length of time psychosis is left untreated, and limited access to CSC programs is a barrier to initiating these critical services. 

Oluwoye hopes the project will help us understand how established, and location-bound, systems of care may also reinforce disparities in access through the inequitable distribution of resources. Though opportunities for specialized care may appear available, they may be fundamentally inaccessible to the individual in need of services who reside in certain communities. 

This study is part of Oluwoye’s larger body of work to evaluate CSC programs and test culturally informed tools and strategies to increase engagement among racially and ethnically diverse populations.