TIDL launches new website, continues work on mental health research

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 5:30pm

The Treatment, Innovation and Dissemination Lab, a multidisciplinary lab at the University of Michigan, recently launched its new website. Also known as TIDL, the lab is focused on developing technology and initiatives to help those with mental health disorders, especially in underserved areas.

TIDL began in 2011 and consists of 24 members from multiple disciplines, including both students and faculty. 

Joe Himle, co-director of TIDL and associate dean for research at the School of Social Work, described TIDL as a multidisciplinary group of post-ops, faculty members, graduate students and community members that is focused on two main areas of mental health research.

“So many people with mental health troubles do not have access to appropriate treatment for their problems, so we’re trying to close that treatment access gap by doing research that brings treatment to people who wouldn’t normally get it,” Himle said. “We’re focused on both people in underserved urban and rural areas.”

Himle said TIDL is also working to improve employment outcomes for people with mental health problems, which Himle described as a two-sided issue.

“People with mental health problems often avoid job interviews — they sometimes don’t have a very extensive peer network to call on for job leads," Himle said. “So there is the patient side, where the mental health problem makes it difficult to go out there and try to do the things you need to do to find employment.”

“But then there’s also the employer’s side, and on the employer’s side people with mental health problems are sometimes discriminated against in employment situations, because employers worry about people with a history of mental illness. Our job is to try and help people with mental health problems be more active in trying to find work, and also be more successful in sustaining work over time,” he added.

TIDL has numerous projects they are working on to help achieve their goal of a world where mental health issues do not prevent people from finding and keeping employment, as well as bettering the treatment these people receive. For example, Himle is the principal investigator of a project called Reaching Independence through Successful Employment, which is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

RISE, which has locations in Detroit and Los Angeles, focuses on helping people with anxiety-related barriers to finding and keeping work. They have placed the intervention program in a vocational service center, and are working on training vocational service professionals at the center to deliver mental health interventions focused on work in their employment agency.

“Most mental health treatments are developed in university towns, or areas where people are highly educated, or large cities, often with mostly white, educated participants helping to evaluate and design the new mental health treatment,” Himle said. “But in our case, we often do the design and development as well as the initial testing of new mental health interventions in underserved communities, for later use by the broader population.”

He added hosting the sessions in Detroit allows the researchers to form better relationships with the group.

“If we develop a treatment in Detroit, it will always have a sort of home-field advantage — it will have a foundation that fits well with that group. It doesn’t mean that a person in Ann Arbor might not find that intervention useful, but the idea is to develop that intervention in an underserved urban and rural areas. Treatments often fit best with the people they’re initially developed with, and we would like turn that typical pattern around.”

Addie Weaver, another co-director of TIDL, is the principal investigator of another project, Raising Our Spirits Together. Weaver, who grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania, feels a personal connection to the work TIDL does.

“I had first-hand experiences where I saw friends and family members in need of mental or physical health care that had a lot of difficulty,” Weaver said. “There just really weren’t treatment options available, so it required substantial travel and substantial resources in terms of having the right type of insurance, having a job that allowed you to take time off to address your needs, or being able to arrange childcare support. And really the underlying issue is that there just aren’t a lot of mental health providers in rural settings.”

ROST, which is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health via a Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award Weaver received, and has an intervention site located in Hillsdale, is focused on providing more accessible depression treatment to those in rural areas.

“What kept coming up was that many times when someone is feeling down or depressed, they are very likely to seek support from their clergy. So we started to talk about creating and developing an intervention for depression that could be delivered in the church setting in rural communities,” Weaver said.

Weaver and her team have found there is large community interest in this initiative, both among the clergy and those afflicted by mental health problems, as well as the general community as a whole. She will be using her grant to engage in community-based participatory research to adapt and test behavioral therapy for depression in the church setting.

“I am extremely excited about the possibility that this treatment would have, because it reduces barriers associated with cost, insurance, travel burden and we have also gotten feedback that it would reduce barriers associated with stigma,” Weaver said. “A lot of times in the rural setting, there tends to be close knit communities, so people know each other. So if someone is going to the community mental health center, it’s likely that someone might see their car in the parking lot, or that the administrator might be good friends with their cousin, for example. There aren’t those same concerns if you’re going to a church.”

Peter Felsman, a Ph.D. student in the lab advised by Himle, wrote in an email interview TIDL reminded him of what had motivated him to do research in the first place.

“I found in TIDL a group of incredibly smart people working diligently on figuring out how to help people who don't already have access to help elsewhere realize the lessons research has taught us about psychological health, as well as figuring out how to refine those lessons further, based on new evidence,” Felsman wrote. “TIDL is a setting where these aims can be pursued collaboratively, and since the need is great and we can get more done when we work together, we ought to.”

When asked what he wanted to see in the future of the project, Himle expressed a hope to simply make life easier for those with mental health issues.

“We’re just trying to help people get the treatment that they need, and we’re trying to come up with creative ways to do it,” Himle said. “And we’re also trying to help people get back to work, because clearly, if you’re not working it’s really difficult to take care of yourself, first and foremost, but it’s also very isolating. It’s difficult for people with mental health trouble not to be on the job if they can, so we’re really working very hard in that area.”