Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute
Translating Science into Solutions for Better Health

Helping People With Mental Illness Get Medical Care


SC CTSI-supported study pilots new peer health navigator intervention.

On average, people with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than the general population—predominantly due to treatable medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

John Brekke, PhD, professor and associate dean of research at the USC School of Social Work and co-director of the SC CTSI Community Engagement program, shares in a podcast how his research with a Peer Health Navigator Intervention – called “the Bridge” – is working to combat this statistic.

John Brekke, PhD

In the podcast, Brekke, Anthony Fulginiti, and Rohini Pahwa describe how their comprehensive, self-management intervention is designed to train people with serious mental illness to teach others with the condition the skills they need to access and manage their own healthcare effectively.

Describing the intervention as a comprehensive engagement and self-management approach, Brekke and his colleagues highlight what makes the intervention unique, recent findings from its application, and its benefits for the Peer Navigators as well.

This type of intervention is critical because people with serious mental illness are often unable to successfully engage a consistent primary healthcare provider or have given up trying to access outpatient primary care. The “Bridge” program offers them a way to gain confidence, skills, tools, and strategies around how to navigate the health care system with their own self-management, while also providing them with an ongoing peer support system.

Holly Kiger, one of SC CTSI's research navigators, assisted with the training of the healthcare navigators. She also helped apply for additional funding to support the program and continues to play a central role in disseminating information about it.

Listen to the full podcast