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Helping minorities navigate racial trauma

Alan Flurry

Psychology faculty member Isha Metzger is engaged in vital work towards improving the health of our community, developing an expertise that grew out of her own experience as well as a heart for public health and wellness. The Office of Research shares a terrific deep-dive into her program and projects:

For Isha Metzger, it’s a chicken and egg question. Which came first—her interest in psychology, or her interest in helping minority populations cope with trauma?


“I had the interest, and then psychology gave me a means to a solution,” said Metzger, assistant professor of clinical psychology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Because I had the overall goal of helping populations as well as individuals, after getting my degree in clinical psychology, I did a clinical psych postdoc in treatment development, and then I also did a postdoc in public health.”

As director of the EMPOWER Lab, she focuses on “Engaging Minorities in Prevention, Outreach, Wellness, Education and Research,” with the aim of reducing mental health disparities in the Black community, particularly for Black youth. She’s interested in preventing risky behaviors and understanding the factors that influence problematic outcomes like STI/HIV exposure, unintended pregnancies and revictimization.

One way Metzger is addressing these issues is through Project NaviGAte, a five-year, $1 million project exploring HIV and substance misuse in Cobb, Dekalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties—four of the 48 federally designated “hotspots” hardest hit by the HIV epidemic. Project NaviGAte is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Tell me about Project NaviGAte.

A lot of people in the Atlanta area aren’t aware that they are living right in the epicenter of the HIV epidemic. Project NaviGAte will connect the organizations that are providing prevention, testing and treatment for trauma, HIV and substance use. We’ll [also] look at what folks need. How can we make these services more culturally relevant to target the risk factors that lead to trauma exposure, HIV risk and substance use?

A focus of my research, and hopefully what we’ll be integrating into those centers, is the consideration of racial trauma for ethnic minority populations—making sure that they’re getting comprehensive mental health treatment.

We’re also going to conduct a public health messaging campaign. Not only for people who are already receiving services, but for the public, as well, because they are being repeatedly exposed to racial stressors. We know that 60% of people say they experience some sort of interpersonal stressor. If we’re talking about racial stressors, nine out of 10 Black or ethnic minority people say they experience those on a daily basis. The messaging campaign will equip people with skills and resources to cope with these stressors.

The final goal is to increase opportunities for testing and to spread awareness so people know where to go for culturally sensitive treatment, prevention and testing. Hopefully people will start to know more about racial trauma, and strategies for treating it and addressing it will be commonplace, just like “wash your hands” is a known way to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

Read MORE about an extraordinary colleague and her work.


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