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The Importance of Mental Health Research and Evaluation

From the moment our eyes open in the morning to the moment we go to sleep, our brains are flooded with information. We read news articles; we listen to podcasts, and all the while our brain is learning information about the world around us, much of it findings and statistics from research studies.

Why the reliance on data? Findings and statistics from research studies can impact us emotionally, add credibility to an article, and ground us in the real world. However, the importance of research findings reaches far beyond providing knowledge to the general population. Research and evaluation studies — those studies that assess a program’s impact — are integral to promoting mental health and reducing the burden of mental illness in different populations.

Mental health research identifies biopsychosocial factors — how biological, psychological and social functioning are interacting — detecting trends and social determinants in population health. That data greatly informs the current state of mental health in the U.S. and around the world. Findings from such studies also influence fields such as public health, health care and education. For example, mental health research and evaluation can impact public health policies by assisting public health professionals in strategizing policies to improve population mental health.

Research helps us understand how to best promote mental health in different populations. From its definition to how it discussed, mental health is seen differently in every community. Thus, mental health research and evaluation not only reveals mental health trends but also informs us about how to best promote mental health in different racial and ethnic populations. What does mental health look like in this community? Is there stigma associated with mental health challenges? How do individuals in the community view those with mental illness? These are the types of questions mental health research can answer.

Data aids us in understanding whether the mental health services and resources that are available meet mental health needs. Many times the communities where needs are the greatest are the ones where there are limited services and resources available. Mental health research and evaluation informs public health professionals and other relevant stakeholders of the gaps that currently exist so they can prioritize policies and strategies for communities where gaps are the greatest.

Research establishes evidence for the effectiveness of public health policies and programs. Mental health research and evaluation help develop evidence for the effectiveness of healthcare policies and strategies as well as mental health promotion programs. This evidence is crucial for showcasing the value and return on investment for programs and policies, which can justify local, state and federal expenditures. For example, mental health research studies evaluating the impact of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) have revealed that individuals taking the course show increases in knowledge about mental health, greater confidence to assist others in distress, and improvements in their own mental wellbeing. They have been fundamental in assisting organizations and instructors in securing grant funding to bring MHFA to their communities.

The findings from mental health research and evaluation studies provide crucial information about the specific needs within communities and the impacts of public education programs like MHFA. These studies provide guidance on how best to improve mental health in different contexts and ensure financial investments go towards programs proven to improve population mental health and reduce the burden of mental illness in the U.S.

In 2021, in a reaffirmation of its dedication and commitment to mental health and substance use research and community impact, Mental Health First Aid USA introduced MHFA Research Advisors. The group advises and assists Mental Health First Aid USA on ongoing research and future opportunities related to individual MHFA programs, including Youth MHFA, teen MHFA and MHFA at Work.

Through this advisory group and evaluation efforts at large, Mental Health First Aid USA will #BeTheDifference for mental health research and evaluation across communities in the US.

Learn more about MHFA Research Advisors and how you can share your research with us.