The Saving Lives and Decreasing Health Disparities project

The Saving Lives and Decreasing Health Disparities project

George Mason University will expand its research and real-world impact in Northern Virginia with the Saving Lives and Decreasing Health Disparities project that was made possible by the efforts of U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) that will play a critical role in addressing the mental health needs of young people in Northern Virginia.

Mason will receive $943,883 in federal funding for the Saving Lives and Decreasing Health Disparities project. Funding for the project is part of the federal omnibus appropriations bill that President Biden recently signed into law to fund the government through Fiscal Year 2023.

Connolly, whose 11th District includes Fairfax, is a senior member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and his party’s lead on the Subcommittee on Government Operations.

“George Mason University is a pillar of our community, but the effects of its world-class education and world-changing research can be felt throughout the country,” said Connolly.

The project will train community clinicians to serve diverse, low-income youth and families and provide access to low- to no-cost, culturally sensitive evidence-based assessments that can be easily implemented in community mental health settings.

The project leads, Mason psychology professor Christianne Esposito-Smythers and Psychology Department chair Keith Renshaw, in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, hope to decrease mental suffering and, ultimately, the need for longer and more intensive treatments, emergency services, hospitalizations, and loss of life to suicide among the most affected populations.

“From world-class education to world-changing research, Mason plays a pivotal role in bettering the lives of folks across Northern Virginia,” Connolly said. “I am so proud to have secured funding for the Saving Lives and Decreasing Health Disparities project, and I can’t wait to see the results in action throughout the 11th District.”

As part of the project, Mason will work with community partners to address mental health problems through accurate assessment and identification of youth mental health difficulties, Esposito-Smythers said.

“This work is intended to increase the effectiveness of mental health services, reduce the likelihood of life-threatening behavior, and decrease the costs of care for our lowest-income youth and families,” she said.

Before the pandemic, more than 36% of youth in the United States reported persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, according to federal statistics. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24, and rates of emergency department visits for youth suicide risk increased 50.6% during the pandemic. In 2020, 86 children in Virginia died by suicide.

“Mason plays a vital role in this community by bringing our research to bear on important issues such as mental health within vulnerable populations,” said Ann Ardis, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “This funding from the Appropriations process, with support from Representative Connelly, will allow the Department of Psychology faculty to advance critical services to those in need.”

The funding for Mason is part of more than $28 million Connolly secured for the commonwealth.

“These vital investments in our region’s future are poised to meet Northern Virginia’s needs in health care, infrastructure, education and housing,” Connolly said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to assist in addressing some of the greatest challenges facing the 11th District of Virginia as we move on from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for our shared future.”