University Of Massachusetts Amherst Researchers Get Public Health Grant

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Public Health has awarded a $199,651 grant to UMass Amherst for two researchers to implement a community-engaged, family-based healthy aging intervention for older Bhutanese adults who have settled in the state.

Kalpana Poudel-Tandukar, associate professor in the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, and Krishna Poudel, associate professor of community health education in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and director of the Institute for Global Health, will collaborate with the Bhutanese Christian Society of Western Massachusetts to continue their work developing proactive well-being strategies to reach this vulnerable population.

The grant is part of $15.6 million awarded to 24 nonprofit groups, cities and towns to support community health efforts in Massachusetts.

The UMass Amherst researchers will engage Western and Central Massachusetts-based Bhutanese people aged 50 and over, who have been shown by the pair’s previous research to have a high prevalence of mental health problems, including anxiety (55.7%) and depression (40.3%).

“The pandemic has made access to health care out of reach for many refugees,” Poudel-Tandukar says. “We believe that a culturally tailored intervention that addresses psycho-sociocultural stressors, cultural adaptation and ongoing psychosocial difficulties holds the most promise to promote the social and mental health of these refugees.”

In 2018 and 2019, Poudel-Tandukar and Poudel designed, implemented and evaluated a social and emotional well-being (SEW) program for resettled Bhutanese adults that featured health education, problem-solving, conflict resolution and social networking. The five-week intervention reduced the prevalence of depression and anxiety by more than 50% and improved participants’ coping and networking skills.

“We plan to tailor the contents of the SEW program to incorporate the needs of the older adults to develop a healthy aging intervention,” Poudel explains. “Our program will help to reduce stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, improve skills in coping adaptively in a new culture and offer other life skills opportunities that could improve their quality of life.”

The program will include weekly, two-hour sessions for five weeks and will feature psychoeducation and problem solving, breathing and mind-body exercises. Trained interventionists from the Bhutanese community will work with the participants in family settings, teaching five modules: Managing Stress, Strengthening Communication Skills, Strengthening Social Networking Skills, Problem Solving and Creating a Healthy Family Environment. “Our program aims to improve five ‘age-friendly’ movement areas – community and health service, communication and information, social participation, respect and social inclusion, and civic participation and employment – to make communities more welcoming and livable for older residents and people of all ages,” Poudel-Tandukar says.

The researchers say this family-based program expects to decrease the mental health burden by engendering in individuals greater cultural competence in using services and promoting empowerment to give families greater control over their health.

The initiative, which addresses the root causes of adverse health outcomes, can be easily adapted to help other immigrant communities, the researchers say.