Employment Policies Impact Mental Health 


Groundbreaking Study Reveals that Changes to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Policy Can Improve Mental Health 
by VERGE Staff | Lifestyle and Health | Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Adler School of Professional Psychology Institute on Social Exclusion (ISE) unveiled the results of its Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) study. The MHIA study is the first of its kind to be conducted in the U.S. The research assesses the impact of employment public policies on the mental health and well-being of individuals and communities. 

The MHIA differs from other types of policy assessments because it's designed to genuinely 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. Residents in Englewood, Chicago served as both subjects and participants during the 18-month investigation.

Why Focus on Employment Policy?

Englewood residents helped select the focus on revisions to employment policies because jobs are hard to find in Englewood, and 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. Although many arrests in Englewood do not result in convictions, the MHIA study 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. 

Key Findings: Changes to Employment Policies Lead to Increased Employability and Improves Mental Health 

Results from the study confirmed that updates to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policy on the use of arrest records in the hiring process can help increase the employability of residents in Chicago's underserved Englewood neighborhood and improve mental health. 

"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 Dr. Lynn Todman, the MHIA study's principal investigator and ISE executive director. 

Specifically, the research assessment 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

The Bottom Line: Mental Health is Essential for Establishing
Healthy Communities  

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

The Adler School partnered with community groups, public health agencies and national advocacy organizations to work with Englewood residents in the MHIA. Community surveys, focus groups with residents and interviews with local employers and police officers were used to examine how proposed revisions to the EEOC policy would affect the lives and health of Englewood residents. 

To learn more about the Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) study, go to: www.adler.edu/mhia.

Source and photo credit: The Adler School of Professional Psychology.
Photo caption: Lynn Todman, Ph.D. executive director of the Adler School of Professional Psychology's Institute on Social Exclusion. 


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