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New Center Will Focus on Workforce Mental Health

Associate Professor Meghan Davis, DVM, PhD '12,  has been awarded funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to establish a new center focused on work-related mental health issues and solutions.

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Researchers in the School of Public Health have been awarded funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to establish a new center focused on work-related mental health issues and solutions. The collective mental health and well-being of the nation’s workforce have been under scrutiny since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meghan Davis, DVM, PhD '12, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering and Dani Fallin, PhD, chair, the Department of Mental Health will serve as co-PIs of the new Center of Excellence: The Johns Hopkins Psychosocial, Organizational, and Environmental Total Worker Health® Center in Mental Health (POE Center).

The POE Center is one of four new hubs funded by NIOSH that focus on research and practice related to worker health. The first-year award to Johns Hopkins is $1.4 million. The total award, spanning five years, is expected to be nearly $7 million. Additional funding will come from the Luv u Project as part of support for the Department of Mental Health’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, a key partner of the POE Center.

The POE Center is the first Total Worker Health® Center dedicated to improving the mental health of the nation’s workforce. The Center will focus on several broad cohorts: health care workers and veterinarians, frontline and essential workers, and workers spanning the food system.

“We need to learn how large-scale disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic affect worker mental health, substance use and general well-being,” Davis says. “From that starting point, it is critical that we identify, test, refine and implement interventions that will keep workers mentally and physically well during and after crises.”

The Center’s name recognizes Edgar Allan Poe, author of the poem “The Raven” and other works, who suffered from depression. He lived in Baltimore for a time and is buried here. The raven in the Center’s graphic identifier refers not only to this history but also emphasizes the importance of de-stigmatization. Davis adds, “Typically associated with death and destruction, ravens are highly intelligent problem solvers that adapt well under stress.”

... it is critical that we identify, test, refine, and implement interventions that will keep workers mentally and physically well during and after crises.

- Meghan Davis, DVM, PhD '12

Davis, the only veterinarian to lead a Total Worker Health® center, points out that veterinarians, who are a part of the Center’s focus, are among those workers at high risk for mental health problems and suicide.

“My hope is that increased attention on and resources for veterinarians and allied professionals will help to address the challenges that this workforce faces, and that success stories in this profession can serve as models for interventions and approaches for related workforces,” she says.

In addition to spanning two departments in the Bloomberg School, the Center will draw on expertise from across the university and beyond, including the School of Nursing, Carey School of Business, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine system, and external partners and stakeholders.

“Holistic solutions call for systemic approaches and transdisciplinary processes,” Davis says. “It’s essential that we approach these challenges by bringing together different disciplines and different perspectives and stakeholders in order to understand the many dimensions of the work and develop actionable solutions.”