Human Science Major Develops Mental Health Community Needs Assessment

JANUARY 19, 2017 - Christina Johnson (NHS’17) is a human science major from Connecticut. Working together with Joan Burggraf Riley (NHS'76, G'97), MS, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, FAAN, assistant dean for educational innovation, Johnson completed a community health needs assessment focused on mental health and youth in the District of Columbia. She is also a member of Georgetown’s women’s rowing team.

NHS: How are you enjoying Georgetown and the human science major?

CJ: I love Georgetown. It’s incredible to be surrounded every day by such thoughtful, motivated, intelligent people. The human science major is great; it’s introduced me to so many facets of human health and disease, and the professors are all so knowledgeable and excited about what they teach – it makes the classes that much more enjoyable.

NHS: Tell us a little bit about the mental health community health needs assessment you conducted.

CJ: I’ve been working in D.C. public schools over the past few years with an organization called The Grassroot Project (TGP). TGP currently focuses primarily on HIV prevention and sexual health, but is working on expanding its curriculum offerings to provide comprehensive, more complete health education for D.C. youth. As a part of this expansion, we are planning to create a mental health curriculum. In order to build an effective curriculum tailored to D.C. youth, we needed to get a better picture of what’s going on in the D.C. youth population specifically with regard to mental health, so I worked with Professor Riley on creating a community needs assessment this past semester. The needs assessment considered risk factors and key contributors to mental health issues based on recent research and data on D.C. youth risk behaviors; mental health and health care disparities facing youth in the District; the current mental health education-based interventions in D.C.; mental health intervention best practices; and recommendations for addressing these many factors in order to promote a more mentally healthy D.C.

NHS: What were some of the surprising findings?

CJ: D.C.’s Healthy People 2020 goals included a few benchmarks for youth mental health; unfortunately, by these markers, youth mental health has declined since 2010 when these goals were set. As I dug into the literature and results of surveys on D.C. youth risk behaviors, I was taken aback by the number of risk factors and contributors to poor mental health faced by D.C. youth, including alcohol and drugs, bullying, sexual risk behaviors, food insecurity, and sedentary behaviors. With that, the areas of D.C. most affected by poor mental health are also those with the least access to mental health services. These many interconnected factors necessitate a comprehensive, multidimensional solution.

NHS: What other types of activities are you involved in at Georgetown?

CJ: Aside from volunteering with The Grassroot Project in D.C. schools, I also work in the TGP office on the more administrative side of things. I am also on the Women’s Rowing team.

NHS: What are your plans for the future?

CJ: After graduation this spring, I’m planning to take a gap year and then apply to psychology graduate programs.

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