MHIA Project Update

Pioneering an interdisciplinary approach 
to addressing mental health

Pioneering an interdisciplinary approach
to addressing mental health

Spring/Summer Update 2012

In January 2011, the Institute on Social Exclusion (ISE) began work on its Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) dealing with a proposal of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to amend its Policy Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest Records in Employment Decisions. In the MHIA, the ISE asked: What is the impact upon the mental health of a community when employers use arrest records in making employment decisions about members of that community?

The specific objective of the MHIA was to construct a lens for viewing this public policy from the perspective of mental health. To the extent that employers use arrest records as a basis of employment decisions, it was postulated that they disqualify innocent people from employment opportunities, and thereby contribute to poor mental health outcomes. Thus, this MHIA becomes part of the rich international thinking devoted to incorporating health into all policies.

In April 2012, the EEOC issued an updated Enforcement Guidance under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This guidance builds on longstanding guidance documents that the EEOC issued over twenty years ago. The new Enforcement Guidance is predicated on, and supported by, federal court precedents dealing with the application of Title VII to an employer’s consideration of a job applicant’s criminal history and incorporates judicial decisions issued since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

The ISE made comments to the EEOC at two key points prior to the April ruling. The first comment was a public comment in August 2011, and the second was made as signatory to a letter of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights directed to the EEOC in April 2012. 

One significant observation made by the ISE was that the EEOC policy on arrests has deleterious impacts upon African Americans, Latinos, and members of other communities that are vulnerable to high rates of arrests. The new EEOC Enforcement Guidance incorporates that position by observing that “African Americans and Hispanics are arrested at a rate that is 2 to 3 times their proportion of the general population.”

In its public comment, the ISE also requested that the EEOC adopt updated and clear policy guidance to educate employers about the law regarding the use of criminal records in employment decisions. The EEOC did precisely this when it issued the April 2012 ruling. 

Although the EEOC’s new Enforcement Guidance is being favorably received by the general public and by most key stakeholders, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed and appropriations bill that prohibits funding “to implement, administer, or enforce” this new guidance. On the other hand, the U.S. Senate version of the same appropriations bill does not include similar prohibitions.

The ISE will continue to monitor developments related to the appropriations bill as they unfold. In the meantime, the national press appears to recognize that new guidance could have a positive effect upon the economy by offering a more hospitable employment environment for job applicants.

In the future, the ISE will report on further applications for the data and knowledge gleaned from the MHIA—especially as it relates to mitigation of the adverse mental health impacts visited upon job applicants by employers who are unaware of the new EEOC Enforcement Guidance or those employers who choose to disregard that guidance.

The ISE will be conducting outreach programming designed to inform Chicago’s Englewood residents and other stakeholders about the contents of the new guidance toward the end of increasing neighborhood employment and reducing any reluctance that residents may have to actually seeking employment when they have an arrest record.

March/April 2012 MHIA Update

On April 13, 2012, the Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) Outreach Committee will host a Town Hall meeting with Englewood residents to present the preliminary findings of the MHIA.  The focus of the project was to understand the impacts on the mental health and well-being of the Englewood community when employers use arrest records in making employment decisions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is proposing to revise policy guidance that would potentially clarify at least two things: 1) that inquiries about arrests should be related to the employment position in question, and 2) that applicants should be given reasonable opportunities to dispute the validity of arrest records to ensure that employers rely upon accurate information when making employment decisions.

The MHIA Research Committee administered surveys and focus groups with residents, and conducted stakeholder interviews with local politicians, employers, police officers, and area service providers. The committee also conducted a systematic literature review and collected participant observation notes from community events.

Between March 2006 and January 2010, District 7, which covers Englewood and West Englewood recorded more than 65,000 arrests. Two hundred fifty (250) surveys were administered to Englewood residents. Forty percent (40%) of the respondents reported having had an arrest that did not lead to a conviction.

Preliminary MHIA findings suggest that when employers use arrest records in employment decisions, individuals in the community suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and low self-esteem. The findings also suggest that the community suffers from general lack of trust, increased levels of crime, and desensitization to violence.

Early findings also suggest that individuals who had not been arrested reported better overall psychological health when compared to those with an arrest history and individuals with an arrest history reported more nontraditional ways of earning a living than those who had no arrest history. Economic instability is significantly related to poor psychological health, poor community mental health, and a larger number of discriminatory experiences.

Next steps for the project are completing the assessment process, preparing recommendations that would inform the EEOC’s policy guidance, and developing an evaluation and monitoring plan that the Englewood community can support.

January/February 2012 MHIA Update

One of the overarching objectives of the MHIA is to advance Health Impact Assessment as a rigorous, evidence-based practice. The MHIA Team is employing a wide range of methodological techniques and gathering data from many sources to answer the ultimate question of the influence of arrest history and the associated effects on employment on the psychosocial and well-being functioning of a disadvantaged community. To this end, the MHIA Research Committee is currently engaged in four activities: analysis of public health epidemiological data; analysis of survey and focus group data; interviews of key stakeholders within the Chicago and Englewood communities; and a systematic literature review, including a meta-analysis of the indirect influence of arrest records on family and community mental health outcomes. Through this work, we aim to provide an evidence-base that increases our understanding of the impact of the proposed EEOC policy guidance on the use of arrest records in employment decisions on the mental health and well-being of Englewood residents.

The MHIA Outreach Committee is supporting the project by connecting with community residents, as well as administering surveys, focus groups and interviews required to evaluate the proposed EEOC policy guidance. The Committee is also planning Town Hall meetings in Englewood to share results of the MHIA and get feedback from the residents that will inform the final recommendations. In addition, Committee members are going out to community meetings and gatherings in Englewood to listen to what is going on in the community and to ensure that our work is relevant to the needs and concerns of the community and to continue to build relationships with local leaders and residents. The Committee is also developing a Neighborhood Perceived Safety Observational Tool to be used by residents to collect data on community safety.

November/December 2011 MHIA Update

The MHIA project team through the Institute on Social Exclusion has completed the MHIA Scoping phase, formulating our work plan and a series of research questions that will guide our assessment process. We also identified health impacts to be considered, research methodologies, data sources, the demographic, and geographical and temporal boundaries for impact analysis.

We now are engaged in the early part of the project’s Assessment phase, collecting data from focus groups, community surveys, and interviews.  The data will be used to determine the mental health implications of a proposed revision to the EEOC Policy Guidance on the use of arrest records in employment decisions. 

The results of the Assessment will help determine MHIA recommendations regarding the proposed policy revision, which we will report to our many interested stakeholders including Englewood residents, public officials, legislators, and advocates upon MHIA completion next spring and summer.

August 2011 MHIA Update

The Institute on Social Exclusion [ISE] has determined its Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) will focus on proposed changes to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission’s Policy Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest Records in Employment Decisions (No. 915.061, dated 9/7/1990). This EEOC Policy Guidance is of high interest to members of our project’s stakeholder community in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood—it presents many urgent concerns in the areas of significant unemployment rates, lack of affordable housing, and high incidences of individual and community violence.

The principal research question our project is examining is:

What is the impact on the mental health of a community when employers use arrest records in making employment decisions about members of that community?

Answering this and related questions will entail collecting information and data through a comprehensive literature review and a combination of focus groups, interviews, and surveys. 

Selection of this policy guidance for our MHIA focus marks our project’s progress through standard Health Impact Assessment (HIA) procedures for Screening and Scoping. Our work in the stages of Assessment, Recommendations and Reporting, and Monitoring and Evaluation remain ahead, as we work toward the project’s completion in June 2012.

In response to a recent call for public comment issued by the EEOC, the ISE has submitted a preliminary policy letter to that Commission endorsing amendments to the current Policy Guidance. The ISE plans to submit additional findings to the EEOC when they become available. In addition, the ISE will be prepared to share MHIA results with the Illinois legislature if state lawmakers revives efforts to make it a “civil rights violation for any employer…to inquire into or use the fact of an arrest…as a basis to refuse to hire”  by re-introducing legislation similar to the previously introduced Senate Bill 1284.

July 2011 MHIA Update

ISE Executive Director Lynn C. Todman, Ph.D., and Faculty Fellow Sherrod Taylor, J.D., have published articles dealing with Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) in an official newsletter of the American Psychological Association (APA) newsletter The SES Indicator.  Also, on July 20, Dr. Todman testified at a hearing of the Chicago City Council’s joint Committee on Housing and Real Estate Zoning, examining proposed amendments to Chicago’s Vacant Building Ordinance. Dr. Todman  spoke MHIA conclusions in fall 2010 that foreclosed and abandoned buildings can have a significant negative affect not only on a community’s financial health but its mental health as well.

MHIA Project Launch

The Institute on Social Exclusion has launched its first MHIA, an 18-month project that began on January 1, 2011. Upon assembling an interdisciplinary MHIA Team, the Institute on Social Exclusion has completed the step of “screening” or selecting a proposal to assess for its implications for the collective mental health and well-being of the Englewood community, a low-income African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

The MHIA Screening stage involved identifying a specific public proposal from among the wide range of projects, plans or policies the tool can evaluate. Examples include local, state or national policies on labor, education, incarceration or immigration; development projects regarding housing and mixed use zoning; transportation plans to modify or develop new transit stations or roadway expansions; and comprehensive or specific area plans that guide a community’s future development.

MHIA and Englewood

Englewood residents are predominantly low-income, female, poorly educated, young and un- or underemployed. Members of the Englewood community suffer from a wide range of risk factors for mental illness including high rates of poverty, joblessness, poor quality housing, crime and violence. Research suggests links from these determinants to mental health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Communities like Englewood are often “acted upon” with public decisions that can yield unintended, unanticipated and detrimental effects on residents’ physical and mental health.

As a preventative tool, the MHIA seeks to:

  • Help residents of communities like Englewood by proactively ensuring that public decisions and actions reflect a solid, evidence-based understanding of their likely effects on community mental health.
  • Address both poor community mental health and the lack of community voice in public decision-making processes in Englewood.
  • Help transform underserved communities, heightening awareness of social determinants of mental health, and educating community members and professionals about strategies to mitigate health disparities.
  • Improve community capacity for coalition building, organizing, and advocacy to take action on the social determinants of mental health through multi-stakeholder collaborations in the MHIA process.
  • The MHIA process will enhance also community awareness of covert relationships, hidden impacts and collateral consequences of non-health decisions and actions on community mental health. It will broaden responsibility and accountability by integrating and uncovering mental health considerations in the decision-making process.

Join the Conversation

The Institute on Social Exclusion hosts an international e-forum for ongoing exchange of ideas, best practices, other resources and noteworthy events on social determinants of mental health and the Mental Health Impact Assessment process.

Join the discussion with public sector professionals, academics, communities, and other key stakeholders committed to advancing a global movement to address the social determinants of mental health. To join the e-forum and for more information on the MHIA, email us today.


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