Mental Health Policy Research Program


The Mental Health Policy Research Program is an interdisciplinary collaboration in mental health policy, law, and public health. Faculty and staff from the UVA Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy (ILPPP) and the Department of Public Health Sciences compose a core group who study a range of topics related to mental health policy and related public health topics, such as suicide prevention. MPH students may pursue a focus on mental health policy by working with faculty on Program projects.

The Program is supported by the Schools of Law and Medicine, as well as a contract with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. And it collaborates with many stakeholders, such as the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Thus, there are often opportunities for connecting with a variety of partners in academia and public health, including the Duke University Services Effectiveness Research Program and the Consortium on Risk-Based Firearms Policy.

PHS Faculty

Current Projects

Some current projects include:

  • Study of the emergency screening process for mental health crises;
  • Use of telehealth technology to expand mental health services;
  • Implementation of advance directives with instructions for mental health care;
  • Structure and financing of the Virginia public mental health system;
  • Study of civil commitment policy and procedures in Virginia;
  • Analysis of state data on involuntary civil commitment;
  • Effects of restricting firearms access to persons who have been civilly committed on suicide and violence

Students may also have the opportunity to publish on the ILPPP’s policy blog.

Selected Recent Publications

Bonnie, R.J., Reinhard, J.S., Hamilton, P., & McGarvey, E.L. (2009). Mental health system transformation after the Virginia Tech tragedy. Health Affairs, 28, 793-804.

Bonnie, R.J. & Zelle, H. (2019). Public Health Ethics Relating to Persons with Mental Illness. In A. Mastroianni, N. Kass, & J. Kahn (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Public Health Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kemp, K., Zelle, H., & Bonnie, R.J. (2015). Embedding advances directives in routine care for persons with serious mental illness: Implementation challenges. Psychiatric Services, 66, 10-14.

McGarvey, E.L., Leon-Verdin, M., Wanchek, T.N., & Bonnie, R.J. (2013). Decisions to initiate involuntary commitment: The role of intensive community services and other factors. Psychiatric Services, 64, 120-126.

McGinty, E.E., Frattaroli, S., Appelbaum, P.S., Bonnie, R.J., Grilley, A, Horwitz, J., Swanson, J.W., & Webster, D.W. (2014). Using research evidence to reframe the policy debate around mental illness and guns: Process and recommendations. American Journal of Public Health, 104, E22-E26.

Swanson, J.W., Bonnie, R.J. & Appelbaum, P.S. (2015). Getting serious about reducing suicide: More “how” less “why.” JAMA, 314, 2229-2230.

Wanchek, T.N. & Bonnie, R.J. (2012). Use of longer periods of temporary detention to reduce mental health civil commitments. Psychiatric Services, 63, 643-648.

Wanchek, T.N., McGarvey E.L., Leon-Verdin M., and Bonnie R.J. (2011).  The Effect of Community Mental Health Services on Hospitalization Rates in Virginia. Psychiatr Services, 62, 194-199.

Zelle, H., Kemp, K., & Bonnie, R.J. (2015). Advance directives in mental health care: Evidence, challenges and promise. World Psychiatry, 14, 278-280.

Zelle, H., Kemp, K., & Bonnie, R.J. (2015). Advance directives for mental health care: Innovation in law, policy, and practice. Psychiatric Services, 66, 7-9.