Webster University receives federal grant to address mental health needs


Webster University is using a $ 1 million federal grant to identify and address the mental health needs of immigrants and people living in underserved communities.

The university will partner with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and various community health organizations, including the St. Patrick Center and the Queen of Peace Center.

Dr Muthoni Musangali, associate professor in the counseling department at Webster University, will lead the project. She said mental health is still stigmatized, especially in communities of color where people are less likely to seek help.

“They are struggling on their own without really trying to access services,” Musangali said. “So that’s something we hope to resolve with this grant by working within the community to make this something less stigmatizing and more ordinary.”

For many, transportation has also been a barrier to seeking help, Musangali said, as they have to make arrangements to leave their homes.

“Find someone to watch your kids to go find a counselor, then take the bus, and maybe it’s a two hour trip one way or the other,” she said, “And in the process, you have to disclose to people what you’re doing. So that prevents people from going there.

Musangali said telehealth services would completely eliminate this problem.

Like transportation, language can be a barrier to mental health resources. Diego Abente is the CEO of Casa de Salud, another partner organization of the university. Abente said the organization’s own Mental Health Collaborative gives clients the option of obtaining service in their native language or through an interpreter.

“This is important in our region, because we do not yet have the linguistic capacity to have enough behavioral health experts available for the demand that there is in the community to receive this type of support”, a- he declared.

Over the years, Abente said he saw a demand for behavioral health support, which led to the creation of the organization’s collaboration in 2018. He said the number of clients and the number of sessions that each client had with therapists had increased.

“Not only are more people accessing mental health collaboratively,” said Abente, “they stay engaged in their sessions for a longer period of time. And this correlates with better results.

Student counselors at Webster University will be trained and offered paid internships, in which they will perform psychological screenings on patients and assess next steps for their mental health needs. Musangali said it could encourage these students to work in the low-income, high-need areas of the region.

“Part of our goal with this grant is to place interns in these locations so that they are better equipped,” she said, “they will be more competent once they graduate to continue working with this population.”

And that, she said, could help alleviate the shortage of mental health counselors.

The scholarship lasts four years.

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