Increasing mental health treatment access and equity through trauma-responsive care

Mersky, J. P., Topitzes, J., Langlieb, J., & Dodge, K. A. (2021). Increasing mental health treatment access and equity through trauma-responsive care. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.


Adverse childhood experiences and other potentially traumatic events have lasting implications for mental health. Evidence-based treatments are available to address trauma-related symptoms, but their impact is hindered because access is limited and unequal. In the U.S., adverse experiences and mental disorders disproportionately affect socioeconomically disadvantaged groups that face treatment access barriers—disparities that are compounded by passive systems of care that wait for clients to seek treatment. This article presents a conceptual argument, backed by empirical evidence, that population health can be improved by implementing trauma-responsive practices, and that greater mental health equity can be achieved if these strategies are used to engage underserved clients. A description is provided of the Trauma Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (T-SBIRT), a promising protocol that can be used by nonclinical providers to detect trauma-related mental health concerns in adults and help them access therapeutic services. The T-SBIRT protocol has been successfully implemented in diverse settings, and it is currently being piloted in a universal postpartum home visiting program called Family Connects. Prior results from three trials of Family Connects are summarized, including evidence of program impact on maternal mental health. New results are also presented indicating that T-SBIRT is feasible to implement within Family Connects, as denoted by indicators of suitability, tolerability, provider adherence, and referral acceptance. Closing recommendations are offered for reducing mental health disparities by testing and disseminating T-SBIRT through Family Connects and other large-scale programs and systems of care.

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