Christina Newhill receives $400,000 NIMH grant

University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work Professor Christina Newhill has just been awarded a 2-year R21 Exploratory/Developmental grant to help create a new treatment that will assist family members and caretakers in coping successfully with potentially violent situations. The grant is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the amount of $403,433.  Newhill is co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Edward Mulvey from the Pitt Department of Psychiatry.

As hospitalizations for mental health problems have decreased, family members have become the primary caretakers for individuals with mental health issues (IMI). When potentially violent encounters occur, family members are often called upon to intervene and prevent these encounters from escalating into violent incidents. Currently, there are no programs to assist family members in this important and challenging role.

Family psychoeducation treatments have been used successfully in the field for quite some time and offer therapeutic support and education to IMI and their families to reduce stress, relapse, and hospitalizations.

Existing psychoeducation treatments are highly effective in reducing family stress, as well as promoting understanding of the loved one’s illness and maintaining wellness, but none of the existing models focus on strategies to reduce the occurrence of violence. While the vast majority of IMI are not violent; it is often the family members that face the most risk when violent situations do arise.

The “Families as Partners in Reducing Violence” project lays the groundwork for the development of an innovative refinement of existing family psychoeducation treatments that will assist family members/caretakers in coping successfully with potentially violent situations.

The project will undertake two major research activities: interviews with pairs of family members and IMIs, and focus groups.

In--depth interviews will be conducted with families and their mentally ill relative where violence has occurred in the recent past. Interviewers will gather information in order to identify triggers, what caused the escalation, what strategies worked, and what strategies backfired.

The focus groups will be composed of inpatient clinicians, community providers, and resource coordinators who work with IMI with a history of violence.  

The information derived from the family interviews and the focus groups will be integrated into existing models to develop a new treatment for families dealing with issues of violence.

“We hope that the development of this new psychoeducation intervention will not only reduce the likelihood of violence occurring, but also reduce the chances of negative outcomes occurring for both the family and their ill relative, including physical and psychological injury, involvement in the criminal justice system, family estrangement, and homelessness” says Newhill.

David E. Epperson Social Work Professor Shaun Eack is also a consultant on the project.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R21MH111803. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.