Peer-Based Initiative Aims To Fill Health Care Gaps For Mentally Ill

SC CTSI-supported study develops integrative model to help people with serious mental illness.

February 27, 2013

Note: A SC CTSI pilot award supported the first phase of this research that resulted in an integrative model to help people with serious mental illness and subsequent funding by the Unihealth Foundation.

People with severe mental illness die an average of 20 to 30 years younger than the general population, an alarming trend that caught the attention of USC School of Social Work Professor John Brekke, PhD.

John Brekke, PhD

Brekke was disturbed to find that this diminished life expectancy was frequently linked to complications from preventable health conditions that went untreated. Supported by a new two-year $146,332 grant from the Unihealth Foundation, Brekke hopes to address premature mortality among people with serious mental illness (SMI) by developing the health model known as the Bridge Peer Health Navigator Intervention.

“There is a separation between the departments of health and mental health that leaves this population vulnerable,” Brekke said. “When the severe mentally ill try to get physical care, they face many impediments. Every place the system can break down, it does.”

The Unihealth Foundation requested this second phase of Brekke’s work after what the organization’s President Mary Odell called an “enormously successful project” that was part of a previous translational research grant provided to USC. The first phase developed the intervention model, and the foundation recognized the potential to further Brekke’s research with application of the protocol in a pilot study.


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