Community Integration Research: Mental Illness & Neighborhoods

Examining the Psychological Sense of Community for Individuals with Serious Mental Illness Residing in Supported Housing Environments.

Townley G, Kloos B.  University of South Carolina, 1512 Pendleton Street, Barnwell College, Columbia, SC, 29208, USA, Gregory.townley@gmail.comCommunity Ment Health J. 2010 Aug 5. [Epub ahead of print]

The psychological sense of community is an important aspect of community life; yet, it remains largely unexamined among individuals with serious mental illness (SMI). Sense of community represents the strength of bonding among community members; and this social phenomenon likely impacts the process by which individuals with SMI integrate into community life. The current study examined sense of community (SOC) for individuals with SMI by assessing the relationships between neighborhood experiences, unique factors related to SMI (e.g., mental illness diagnosis), and sense of community in the neighborhood. Participants were 402 residents of supported housing programs who used mental health services in South Carolina. Hierarchical linear regression was utilized to determine which components of community life helped to explain variability in sense of community. In total, 214 participants reported that it is very important for them to feel a sense of community in their neighborhoods. Neighbor relations, neighborhood safety, neighborhood satisfaction, neighborhood tolerance for mental illness, and housing site type emerged as significant explanatory variables of sense of community. These findings have implications for interventions aimed at enhancing SOC and community integration for individuals with SMI.


A social ecological approach to investigating relationships between housing and adaptive functioning for persons with serious mental illness.

Kloos B, Shah S.  Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina, 1512 Pendleton Street, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.  Am J Community Psychol. 2009 Dec;44(3-4):316-26.

This paper seeks to advance mental health-housing research regarding which factors of housing and neighborhood environments are critical for adaptive functioning, health, and recovery for persons with serious mental illness (SMI). Housing and neighborhood environments are particularly important for persons with SMI because of the prevalence of poor housing conditions among this population. Most mental health-housing research has been limited by a focus on problems in environments and functioning. The paper seeks to expand the mental health-housing research agenda to consider protective factors that promote community integration and adaptive functioning. We provide an account of how social ecology theory transformed a research program, from examining individual risk factors to investigating the functioning of persons in the contexts of their housing and neighborhood experiences. The resulting housing environment framework-physical aspects of housing and neighborhoods, social environment of neighborhoods, and interpersonal relationships tied to housing-allows for identification of opportunities for health promotion and facilitation of participation in community-based settings. This program of research draws upon several methods to understand the social experience of persons with SMI living in community settings-survey research, qualitative interviews, Geographic Information Systems, participatory research, and visual ethnography. In this paper, we present how social ecology theory was instrumental in the development of new housing environment measures, the selection of appropriate research methods, and framing research questions that are building a new empirical base of knowledge about promoting adaptive functioning, health, and recovery for persons with SMI living in community settings.

Psychiatric residences: notification, NIMBY, and neighborhood relations.

Zippay AL.  Department of Social Work, Rutgers University, 536 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08903, USA.  Psychiatr Serv. 2007 Jan;58(1):109-13.

OBJECTIVE: Federal legislation has given mental health agencies the authority to forego notifying neighbors when establishing shared, supervised houses and apartments for individuals with severe mental illness, but many continue to notify neighbors in the belief that outreach enhances community integration. This study examined the associations between notification strategies and initial neighborhood opposition and longer-term neighborhood relations.

METHODS: Telephone interviews were conducted with 169 mental health administrators in seven states who described the notification strategy and short- and long-term neighborhood responses to their most recently established shared, supervised residence. Additional data on neighborhood relations were collected in interviews with 138 staff who worked on site at the residences described by the mental health administrators.

RESULTS: Just under half of the agencies used a strategy that involved notification of neighbors, and those organizations were significantly more likely to experience initial opposition (59% of notifiers experienced opposition compared with 35% of non-notifiers). Those who notified neighbors were more likely to initiate activities such as an open house with neighbors after the site was established. There were no significant associations between current neighborhood attitudes and initial notification strategies or initial opposition. Agencies that initiated postsiting social activities with neighbors were significantly more likely to report “very accepting” attitudes.

CONCLUSIONS: Administrators who use notification may experience higher levels of initial opposition, but longer-term neighborhood relations may not vary significantly regardless of whether neighbors were notified or whether initial opposition was present. Some agency-sponsored postsiting activities may facilitate substantive connections with neighbors.