Mental Health Impact Assessment

Pioneering an interdisciplinary approach 
to addressing mental health.

Pioneering an interdisciplinary approach
to addressing mental health.

Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA)

Building on the momentum of our June 2010 conference “Social Determinants of Mental Health: From Awareness to Action,” the Institute on Social Exclusion — in collaboration with the Institute for Public Safety and Social Justice and community partners — has developed the Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA).

The MHIA process helps to ensure that public proposals — including legislative, policy and programmatic initiatives put forth by federal, state or local governments — are vetted for their impacts on the collective mental health and well-being of communities.

Leading support for our development of the MHIA comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Pierce Family Foundation.

What is MHIA?

The MHIA is an interdisciplinary process designed to assess the impact of public decisions on population mental health. It expands on established Health Impact Assessment (HIA) practice by more explicitly integrating mental health considerations. In addition to focusing on mental health, our work will help to advance HIA practice in the following ways:

  • Expanding beyond the traditional HIA focus on planning, land use and built-environment proposals to a much broader range of proposals in such areas as labor, education, social welfare, public safety and additional areas relevant to the needs of disadvantaged communities;
  • Conducting a more rigorous process and outcome evaluation; and
  • Advancing the field of mental health by developing the concept of population mental health.

The MHIA is a preventative practice that can be used to help ensure that legislation, policy, and other public decisions reflect an understanding of their implications for the mental health of vulnerable communities.

Too often, government decisions are made without consideration of mental health implications, often harming communities in the long run. For instance, the decision to house low-income families in densely populated high-rise housing projects in Chicago inflicted great harm particularly on African American communities. Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, completed in 1962, is a well-known example of one such housing project that seeded crime and violence that substantially undermined the health and well-being of its residents.

The MHIA Process

The MHIA comprises five steps for addressing health disparities and promoting health equity:

  • Screening: determining the need and value of conducting an MHIA;
  • Scoping: determining the salient mental health impacts to evaluate and methods for analysis;
  • Assessment: evaluation of the mental health impacts of the proposal under consideration;
  • Recommendations and reporting: developing recommendation and reporting out on the findings of the assessment; and
  • Monitoring and evaluation: process, impact and outcome evaluation.

MHIA Outcomes

Some of our expected outcomes include:

  • Evidence-based findings and recommendations
  • Targeted community involvement in public decisions that impact community health/well-being
  • Broadened responsibility and accountability for population mental health
  • Increased awareness of the impacts of non-health decisions on population mental health
  • Improved community capacity for research, coalition building, organizing and advocacy;
  • Increased community cohesion and partnerships; and
  • Increased clarity in health equity impacts of public decisions.

MHIA Pilot

Members of the Adler University's Institute on Social Exclusion team recently authored a first-of-its-kind publication. Available online, the article describes a pilot Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) that assessed the mental health implications of a proposed amendment to Chicago's Vacant Buildings Ordinance. This pilot involved a multi-methods research approach that included literature reviews and focus groups designed to understand the collective mental health of people living in Englewood, a neighborhood located on Chicago’s southwest side.

Todman, L. C., Hricisak, L. M., Fay, J. E., & Taylor, S. (2012, April 11). Mental health impact assessment: population mental health in Englewood, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 1-8, iFirst Article.

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.


Learn about the people that make MHIA possible.

Access the latest HIA resources.