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Minority Mental Health and Mental Health Disparities Research Program

Mental health disparities remain a persistent public health issue in the United States for marginalized and minoritized populations such as those from non-white racial and ethnic populations, sexual and gender minorities, people from lower socioeconomic strata, people with disabilities , or those residing in rural or frontier geographic areas. 

Mental health disparities have been magnified by recent acts of racism and discrimination and the converging public health crises (for example, COVID-19 and youth mental health) that disproportionately affect these communities. The NIMH Strategic Plan for Research highlights reducing disparities and promoting mental health equity by emphasizing research that addresses the needs of marginalized and minoritized populations. 

The 2022 National Healthcare Quality & Disparities Report  underscored that social determinants of health, including social, economic, environmental, and community conditions, influence mental health outcomes. This report also demonstrated disparities in access to evidence-based mental health treatment, particularly among minoritized youth.

Several disparities persist or remain worse in key quality measures, including suicide outcomes. Questions remain regarding individual-, community-, provider-, and health system-related mechanisms underlying disparities in mental health and mental health service use and how to best leverage these multidimensional mechanisms to inform intervention development. 

The evidence base increasingly points to opportunities for bringing to scale successful interventions that address the multilevel factors driving disparities and social determinants of health of marginalized and minoritized populations to increase quality and access to mental health care, ultimately achieving mental health equity. 

Additionally, data suggests current research practices have left some minoritized populations behind by treating groups as monoliths. There is an urgent need for disaggregation of data to fully understand mental health outcomes among minoritized communities, particularly for Asian American and Pacific Islander groups.

Minority Mental Health Research Program functions

The primary functions of the NIMH Minority Mental Health Research Program are to:

  • Oversee and coordinate NIMH efforts related to minoritized and marginalized populations' mental health and social determinants of mental health disparities
  • Identify opportunities and gaps in research activities related to minoritized and marginalized populations’ mental health and social determinants of mental health disparities
  • Work closely with other NIH Institutes and Centers and other Department of Health and Human Services offices and agencies to stimulate research on minoritized and marginalized populations’ mental health and social determinants of mental health disparities
  • Establish and maintain research partnerships across federal agencies to increase the capacity and public health impact of scientific research to reduce mental health disparities
  • Educate partners and researchers about areas of minority mental health and mental health disparities research relevant to their respective mission or portfolio

Program priorities

The goals of the Minority Mental Health and Health Disparities Research Programs are to:

  • Foster inclusive research across the NIMH Strategic Objectives through the recruitment and participation of diverse racial and ethnic groups
  • Increase the understanding of mechanisms underlying racial/ethnic disparities and differences in mental health
  • Advance robust disaggregation of research data to understand the nuances of minoritized populations’ mental health needs and outcomes
  • Promote the scaling up of evidence-based interventions to ensure quality and equity in mental health care regardless of racial or ethnic background
  • Advocate the uptake of research that takes an intersectional lens to understand the complex interplay of mental health, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, and disability status on outcomes
  • Advance research on the social determinants of mental health disparities and multi-level systemic interventions that can reduce or eliminate disparities
  • Catalyze research funding, stakeholder engagement and coproduction, and workforce development related to research on the mental health needs of marginalized and minoritized youth

The minority mental health and health disparities research portfolios at NIMH are distributed across the NIMH Divisions and Offices according to their focus in the scientific areas of services and interventions researchtranslational researchneuroscience and behavioral researchHIV/AIDS research, and on populations of high need.

The Minority Mental Health and Mental Health Disparities program focuses on two areas: 

  • Minoritized populations’ mental health research 
  • Social determinants of mental health disparities research

Minoritized population mental health research

NIH designates people of racial or ethnically minoritized backgrounds, those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, underserved rural populations, sexual and gender minority groups, and people living with disabilities as health disparities populations. Importantly, these identities and experiences do not occur in isolation. As such, NIMH advocates for an intersectional approach to understanding the phenomenology of mental health outcomes, treatment approaches, and etiology of mental illness for minoritized populations.

Intersectionality accounts for the multiple, interconnected social identities that individuals have and how the intersections of these identities and relevant inequitable systems shape their experiences and positionality in society. An intersectional approach can better predict variations in health outcomes, determine individual or population needs, and ultimately lead to more inclusive and multi-level research.

NIMH is interested in promoting impactful research that can inform ways to improve equity in access, use, and quality of care for people from minoritized and marginalized backgrounds. This is a priority that cuts across the entirety of the NIMH mission. 

We have recently reaffirmed this commitment in the area of youth mental health disparities with the publication of a Strategic Framework for Addressing Youth Mental Health Disparities, which seeks "to provide a conceptual approach to help guide NIMH activities, including research funding, stakeholder engagement, and workforce development, related to research on the mental health needs of youth impacted by racial and ethnic health disparities.”

Social determinants of mental health disparities research (SDoH-MHD)

The NIH defines social determinants of health (SDoH) as the “conditions in which people are born, grow, learn, work, play, live, and age, and the wider set of structural factors shaping the conditions of daily life.” SDoH encompasses social drivers of health, such as housing, nutrition security, transportation, geography, structural factors (for example, structural racism and health care systems), policy, and other conditions of daily life, as well as their intersections. 

Disparities are defined as differences in health that are avoidable and due to social, economic, structural, and policy factors. The SDoH-MHD program emphasizes SDoH as mechanisms of mental health outcomes and disparities among health disparities populations. Currently, the SDoH-MHD program is identifying gaps in funding and research related to SDoH impacts on mental health disparities and filling these gaps by working collaboratively across NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices to increase funding opportunities that support SDoH-MHD research.

More information

Funding opportunities

General information

Program directors

Beshaun Davis, Ph.D.
Mental Health of Minoritized Populations Research
Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity
6001 Executive Boulevard

Juliette McClendon, Ph.D.
Social Determinants of Mental Health Disparities Research
Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity
6001 Executive Boulevard