FABBS Submits Comments on NIMH RFI on Improving Mental Health Outcomes Among Diverse Populations and NIH-wide COVID-19 Strategic Plan

December 16, 2020

FABBS responded to a Request for Information issued by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on “Fostering Innovative Research to Improve Mental Health Outcomes Among Minority and Health Disparities Populations.” In the comments, FABBS expressed support for this important portfolio and for NIMH to continue examining the effects of discrimination, as well as ways to help mitigate the effects. Comments recommended that the research agenda include an analysis of the links between racism, bias, prejudice, and health at all levels of analysis: environmental, cultural, psychosocial, behavioral, cognitive, and biological (e.g. physiological, neurological). FABBS identified opportunities for both mechanisms and interventions. Dr. Laura Richman, Duke University, made substantial contributions to the FABBS response.

Mechanisms: Investigate the pathways through which emotional responses to interpersonal discrimination promote or reduce the risk of engaging in maladaptive health behaviors. The experience of discrimination can put people at higher risk for engaging in health behaviors that may serve a stress-reducing function in the short-term, but may ultimately increase risk for disease (e.g., alcohol drinking). Research that examines the interaction of stress and behavioral responses to discrimination, such as negative affect and disinhibition.

Interventions: Coping strategies at the individual, family and/or community level, such as racial affirmation, that highlight positive group-identifications and feelings of connectedness. Value of support networks as potentially important adaptive coping mechanism in response to discrimination-based stress.

FABBS also provided feedback to an RFI on the NIH-wide COVID-19 Strategic Plan. Comments responded to the individual priorities in the plan, including expanding fundamental knowledge about risk factors for poor mental health and conditions that facilitate resilience. FABBS encouraged NIH to fund research on the effects of pandemic-related stress and brought attention to the need for research to assess the long-term consequences of the pandemic and the corresponding social isolation, economic instability and virtual learning.

In response to Priority 4: Improve Prevention of SARS-CoV-2 Infection, FABBS highlighted the importance of psychological science for the purposes of preventing continued spreading of this virus, such as encouraging behaviors that will reduce the spread; understanding and minimizing health disparities in low income and communities of color; building resilience and addressing the mental health consequences of the pandemic; and maximizing uptake of future vaccines. 

In regards to the Crosscutting Strategies, FABBS encouraged NIH to think broadly about the opportunities to collaborate even beyond typical partners within Health and Human Services, pointing to the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the Department of Education.