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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Maryland Mental Health Initiatives

The University of Maryland School of Public Health’s research spans a wide array of mental health topics, ranging from the factors affecting college students’ mental health to predictors of women’s pre-abortion psychological health. Recent examples of research related to mental health include:

Dr. Amelia Arria, associate professor of behavioral and community health and director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, has long investigated factors affecting college students’ mental health and academic achievement. A recent report from the center titled “Collegiate Recovery Programs: A Win-Win Proposition for Students and Colleges,” takes a close look at substance use disorders and recovery on college campuses. An estimated one in six college students struggles with a substance use disorder, but few colleges and universities offer resources on campus that are tailored to a college student’s unique needs and situation, Dr. Arria and fellow researchers found. Their report analyzes the benefits of these types of programs and offers recommendations for colleges seeking to add CRPs to their campuses. Another such report led by Dr. Arria, “Sexual assault and alcohol: What the research evidence tells us,” examines the complex association between sexual assaults and alcohol use and outlines a multifaceted approach to reducing sexual assault through reduced alcohol consumption. Other findings from the longitudinal College Life Study provide important insights about mental health trajectories of young adults.

A recent study led by Julia Steinberg, assistant professor of family science, was one of the first to focus on perceived abortion stigma and its relationship to pre-abortion psychological health. Dr. Steinberg used data from 353 women seeking abortions at three community reproductive health clinics to examine predictors of pre-abortion psychological health. She found that childhood adversities and reproductive coercion predicted pre-abortion mental health, and that addressing stigma among women seeking abortions may significantly lower their psychological distress. The study, “Psychosocial factors and pre-abortion psychological health: The significance of stigma,” was published in Social Science & Medicine.

Recent health policy research by Dr. Jie Chen, assistant professor of health services administration, and colleagues showed how the Affordable Care Act has helped protect young adults from undue financial burdens of out-of-pocket mental health costs, and allowed them to use mental health services when they need them. “Young Latinos, African Americans and those from other racial and ethnic minorities saw the greatest reduction in out-of-pocket medical expenses related to behavioral health. This outcome is encouraging because minorities typically experience higher unemployment rates and lower salaries and are less likely to seek out and use behavioral health services,” Dr. Chen stated in the article in Psychiatric Services.

Research by associate professor Dr. Carson Smith in the department of kinesiology has shown the link between exercise and cognitive health, particularly related to the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as we age. A recent study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in August 2016, examined cerebral blood flow in healthy, physically fit older adults (ages 50-80 years) before and after a 10-day period during which they stopped all exercise. After the period of inactivity, MRI scans showed a significant decrease in blood flow to several brain regions, including the hippocampus,a portion of the brain that is essential for memory function.

Another kinesiology researcher, assistant professor Dr. Shannon Jette, has explored the potential benefits to prescribing nature-based activity to people with mental illnesses. A paper, published in the American Journal of Public Health in March 2016 focused on exercise prescription abroad in the United Kingdom and Australia and how their models of prescription could be adopted by the ‘Exercise is Medicine’ initiative in the United States.

In addition to diverse research programs such as these examples, the school’s department of family science offers a Master of Science degree in Couple and Family Therapy which provides clinical opportunities for students through its Center for Healthy Families, an onsite state-of-the-art training and research facility that provides free and reduced-cost counseling to hundreds of families in the Washington metro region annually.