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UCLA and Rand researchers reducing depression in low income areas

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On April 9, UCLA Health System announced that community leaders and a UCLA/Rand research team received an esteemed award for translational science efforts to improve depression care in low income communities. Translational science entails converting research discoveries into clinical applications. In this case, a public health program to reduce depression. The researchers received the Joint Team Science Award, given by the Association for Clinical and Translational Science and the American Federation for recognition of a 10-year effort to conduct community engaged, population-based translational science to improve care for depression in low-income areas. The award will be presented on April 10 at the association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.

The research team included interdisciplinary researchers and area investors from South Los Angeles, downtown L.A. and Hollywood; these organizations worked in partnership with the research team by contributing their knowledge to develop a collaborative approach to science development and implementation, as well as an evidence basis for the added importance of community engagement and partnership. They included the National Institute for Mental Health (NIHM), the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and 40 other health and advocacy agencies, including Healthy African American Families II, QueenCare Health and Faith Partnership and Behavioral Health Services.

More than 100 academic and community leaders participated in the project. They included representatives from child welfare agencies, ministers, barbershops and beauty salons, food banks, and homeless shelters.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to get an award that recognizes the efforts of so many people. It really does take a village to affect change,” noted principal investigator Dr. Kenneth Wells, a senior scientist at RAND and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. He added, “We showed that with community leaders and scientists working together we can improve mental and physical health and reduce homelessness, as well as provide relief for those suffering from depression.”

Dr. Bowen Chung, an assistant professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute and an adjunct scientist at RAND, added that the study on depression may be the first one to show that community engagement can provide “measurable added value…” He added, “We were able to show that high quality science and high quality community engagement are not mutually exclusive endeavors. We were also able to show that, when everyone in a community works together to address a health issue like depression, we can learn how to develop new effective and innovative approaches to provide support for people with depression that healthcare systems and doctors could never develop by themselves.”

The UCLA/RAND project involves three different projects over the 10-year period, including Witness for Wellness, the NIMH-funded Partnered Research Center for Quality Care, and Community Partners in Care. “This project made it safe to talk about depression in my community,” noted study co-principal investigator Loretta Jones, chief executive officer of Healthy African American Families II. She added, “It was successful because it was not done ‘on,’ ‘to,’ or ‘for,’ but ‘with’ the community.” Her organization is a non-profit health advocacy organization that works to improve the health outcomes of African American, Latino, and Korean communities in Los Angeles County.