Reducing mental health disparities among underserved populations, particularly African American elders, is an important public health priority. The authors describe the process and challenges of developing a community/academic research partnership to address these disparities.
The authors are using a Community-Based Participatory Research approach to gain access to underserved populations in need of depression treatment. The authors identify six stages: 1) Collaborating to Secure Funding; 2) Building a Communications Platform and Research Infrastructure; 3) Fostering Enduring Relationships; 4) Assessing Needs/Educating about Research Process; 5) Initiating Specific Collaborative Projects (meeting mutual needs/interests); and 6) Maintaining a Sustainable and Productive Partnership. Data from a needs assessment developed collaboratively by researchers and community agencies facilitated agreement on mutual research goals, while strengthening the partnership.
A community/academic-based partnership with a solid research infrastructure has been established and maintained for 3 years. Using the results of a needs assessment, the working partnership prioritized and launched several projects. Through interviews and questionnaires, community partners identified best practices for researchers working in the community. Future research and interventional projects have been developed, including plans for sustainability that will eventually shift more responsibility from the academic institution to the community agencies.
To reach underserved populations by developing and implementing models of more effective mental health treatment, it is vital to engage community agencies offering services to this population. A successful partnership requires “cultural humility,” collaborative efforts, and the development of flexible protocols to accommodate diverse communities.