Community-University Collaborations in Research Workshops

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Published November 6, 2019

By Himangi Marathe, PhD

The final workshop of a three-part series, to be held on November 7, 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, will focus on Culturally Responsive Research Engaging the LGBTQ Community. A diverse, community-friendly panel will engage the audience in discussion about disparities and perceived barriers to conducting research with this community.

Previous sessions have focused on the Refugee-Immigrant-Latino communities (September) and Mental Health Research (October) and featured panels with community leaders and UB faculty.

Highlights – Culturally Responsive Research with Refugee, Immigrant and Latino Communities

Barriers faced by New Americans integrating into society and being able to access research opportunities were discussed at the September session. Social isolation and expenses associated with interpretation services were recognized as significant barriers towards integration, whereas general lack of trust, lack of awareness, cultural and religious beliefs, and paucity of self-representation in healthcare and research were identified as barriers affecting research participation.

Strategies discussed to improve awareness and research participation required building a relationship with the community and involving them in planning and conducting research, as well as updating them about the progress of research. Jessica Scates, Administrative Coordinator for the Community for Global Health Equity at UB advised that the initial interaction needs to be a conversation and not a survey. The conversation needs to be had with an open mind to different perspectives. “Piggy backing on community events is a good strategy to introduce oneself to the public,” said May Shogan, Director of International Exchanges and Education Program at the International Institute of Buffalo. Scientists and faculty interested in engaging the community in research can consult with community-based organizations providing services to the public to identify the need and cultural beliefs of the concerned community.

Reflections – Explorations in Mental Health: Research Perspectives

The October workshop included discussion of observed mental health concerns in biomedical and health science trainees. Socio-economic determinants of health such as environment, access to food, transportation, housing and poverty collectively impact mental health of Buffalo and WNY community. The opiate epidemic had a large impact in Buffalo. Considering the refugee population, previous trauma and witnessed violence along with challenges of learning a new language severely impact mental health of this populace. Karl Shallowhorn, MS, Education Program Coordinator for the Community Health Center of Buffalo stated, “You can treat a person on an individual level, but when they go back to things they don’t have, it’s like putting a Band-Aid on the situation and the problem.”

The significant impact of stigma associated with mental health illness on its diagnosis and treatment was discussed at length. Kenneth Leonard, PhD, Director of Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions and Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, noted that based on 2016 data, stigma was one of the reasons why six out of 10 people are not seeking help.

Understanding and identifying signs of trouble related to mental health can be tricky and individuals suffering from issues can often be unpredictable. Michelle Brooks, MPH, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Buffalo & Erie County cited available data that most serious mental illnesses surface at the ages of 16-25. She stressed that if kids and young adults get treatment right away, the chances of combatting the illness are significantly better. Thus, further research needs to be conducted with this age group to obtain preventive intervention strategies.

Common Themes

There were common themes emerging from both workshops. The specific needs of each community have to be identified, and researchers need to dedicate their research towards these communities from the start instead as an afterthought. Plans and policy changes are required to improve access to healthcare and broaden inclusion criteria for research. Adequate measures also need to be taken to improve language barriers and to strengthen trust and communication between science and the public.

As Leonard aptly summarized, “We are social, and interpersonal relationships are important. It is true in terms of prevention and any aspect of health.”