African American youth are more likely to experience adversities including abuse, neglect, and racial trauma and discrimination. These youth also are less likely to initiate and engage in mental health treatment, and when they do, they are less likely to complete and to benefit from clinical interventions, and more likely to suffer disproportionate consequences of maladaptive adjustment. Conversely, there are protective processes that naturally occur within African American family that can be used to strengthen relationships, prevent abuse, combat the effects of racial stressors, improve engagement and outcomes in mental health services, and reduce risk for future engagement in risk behaviors.
As Director of The EMPOWER Lab, Dr. Isha Metzger focuses on "Engaging Minorities in Prevention Outreach Workshops Evaluation & Research" at the University of Georgia. Within this context, Dr. Metzger’s research aims to reduce mental health disparities through increasing engagement and enhancing mental health treatment outcomes among underserved minority populations (e.g., African Americans). Specifically, she is interested in preventing engagement in risky behaviors (e.g., sexual activity, alcohol use, delinquency) as well as understanding risk and resilience factors (e.g., trauma experiences, racial socialization and racial discrimination, family and peer relationships) that impact the relation between trauma exposure and problematic outcomes (e.g., STI/HIV exposure, unintended pregnancies, revictimization, drunk-driving accidents, legal system involvement). Dr. Metzger is also engaged in translational research including the conceptualization, implementation, dissemination, and systematic evaluation of prevention programming aimed at reducing mental health and health disparities among African American youth.
Current Research Projects
Culturally Enhanced Trauma Treatment to Reduce HIV Risk for African American Youth: Integrating Racial Socialization
National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health
This study utilizes the input of topical experts, clinicians, youth, and caregivers in order to create a standardized cultural add-on for existing evidence-based cognitive-behavioral trauma treatments. Racial socialization will be integrated by clinicians both within (e.g., psychoeducation) and between (e.g., in-vivo, “in real life” assignments) sessions with African American youth and caregivers in order to improve engagement and decrease trauma sequelae (e.g., PTSD, HIV risk) for this population. Feasibility and acceptability of this cultural add-on will also be assessed in this study.
The Impact of Lifestyle Factors on Rural Youths’ Vulnerability to Substance Abuse
Center for Translational and Prevention Science, University of Georgia
Challenging rural environments take a toll on neurocognitive development, undermining the development of decision making skills and affecting substance use vulnerability. Emerging research also suggests that youths’ development of decision making competencies may be affected by a number of lifestyle factors including sleep, physical activity, food, caffeine, and interactive media. This study focuses on how stressful environments affect substance use via neurocognitive pathways.
A Community Based Participatory Research Approach to Reducing Health Disparities in Service Initiation and Engagement following Trauma Exposure
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health
This mixed methods Community Based Participatory Research Study is designed to explore barriers and facilitators to service initiation and engagement, and to identify strategies to address barriers to service engagement among racial/ethnic minority youth and families who are referred to Children’s Advocacy Centers following potential trauma exposure.
Previous Research Projects
African American College Students’ Alcohol Use and Sexual Behaviors: Associations with Stress, Racial Discrimination, and Social Support
Southern Regional Education Board
The “Activities and Behaviors in College” (ABC) Study sought to identify risk behavior profiles of alcohol use, risky sex, and co-occurring alcohol use and sexual activity among emerging adults in college. Additionally, this study examined the ways that risk behavior profiles were associated with general and culturally specific risk and resilience factors for college students.
Community and Institutional Partners