Michelle R. Munson

(212) 992-9731

Areas of Expertise

Mental health services and interventions research; influence of adult role models; service use decisions; and transition to adulthood among vulnerable populations


Dr. Michelle R. Munson is a Professor of Social Work, with professional interests in mental health services research and intervention development and testing. Her work centers on adolescents and young adults.

Of particular interest, Dr. Munson’s research seeks to understand how society’s structural conditions and social relationships, through both verbal and non-verbal communication, shape young adults decisions to seek (or not to seek) professional mental health services. Her research and scholarship also seeks to develop, refine, and test interventions for adolescents and young adults with serious mental health conditions.

Dr. Munson received her education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (bachelors), University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (masters), and Washington University in St. Louis (doctorate).

Munson and her colleagues are refining and testing intervention programs (described below) aimed at positively orienting young people and their families toward seeking professional help when it is needed and improving the quality of mental health care for adolescents and young adults with serious mental health conditions.

The intervention programs use innovative and empirically-based communication strategies to capture young people’s attention and engage them in their care, including a dual provider team of a social worker and a peer. The programs also rely on modalities that youth favor to facilitate mental health conversations, such as creative arts and the use of narratives (or stories) surrounding mental health topics.

Just Do You is a brief meta-intervention for young adults experiencing one of their first-contacts with the mental health system. It was designed to help orient young people to their clinics, their programs, their providers, and typical mental health service components, while also encouraging them that they can be partners in their mental health care decisions.

Cornerstone is an empirically-informed intervention that draws on trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, case management, peer support, mentorship, and “in-vivo” practice, bringing transition age youth and their providers out into the community together to experience and engage in real world activities that support their goals. The intervention is provided during a critical time of transition, when youth and young adults commonly experience change in individual, relational and contextual domains of their lives.

Dr. Munson’s most recent research seeks to understand questions of access and utilization of mental health care among those who have not yet been identified by the mental health system. She and her colleagues have completed 150 in-person interviews with community members and young adults to build understanding on the mental health needs of young adults living in low-resourced communities. The team is empirically testing mental health decision-making around managing mental health symptoms, while working with community advisors to design outreach strategies that will be acceptable within the community to identify young people in need and assist them in accessing services as needed.

Read more about all of these current projects at the Youth and Young Adult Mental Health Group.

Broadly, Dr. Munson’s research focuses on answering three related questions among marginalized populations of youth and young adults in varying contexts: 1) what multi-level factors influence utilization and investment in mental health services, 2) in what ways can intervention programs positively impact service use and ultimately mental health and life outcomes, and 3) how do social relationships influence these processes.

Two of Dr. Munson’s latest publications are innovative conceptual frameworks that bring together multidisciplinary research to stimulate the mental health services community as we drive toward improving engagement in care and healing from mental health problems in the 21st Century.

The first, published in Social Science and Medicine entitled, “Static, dynamic, integrated and contextualized: A framework for understanding mental health service utilization among young adults” provides a springboard for examining questions around individuals intention and actual service use behaviors. The framework emerged directly from face-to- face interviews with young adults who transitioned from adolescence to adulthood with mental health challenges.

The second, published in Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research entitled, “Mental Health Service Use: A Communication Framework for Program Development” addresses the fact that most mental health services research focuses on identifying the determinants of engagement. We suggest that such knowledge alone is not enough. Once identified, program designers need to use evidence-based principles to design programs to bring about change in the identified determinants. The framework is grounded in mental health services research, communication theory and evidence from related behavioral science research.

Dr. Munson has provided consultation to mentoring researchers, policy-makers and program designers, and mental health services and interventions researchers. She is a member of the National Mentoring Research Council at MENTOR. She has been an invited expert reviewer for grants submitted to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation. Dr. Munson was also an invited reviewer for the Institute of Medicine’s state-of- the-art report entitled “Investing in the Health and Well-Being of Young Adults”.

Dr. Munson recently agreed to serve a three-year term on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Emerging Adulthood.

Dr. Munson directs the Youth and Young Adult Mental Health Group at NYU and she co-directs the New York University Mental Health co{lab}orative at the Silver School of Social Work, which is a group of faculty, post-doctoral and pre-doctoral scholars, and graduate students who meet together monthly to discuss ideas, emerging findings, and potential collaborations.

Dr. Munson has published in Psychiatric Services, Social Science and Medicine, Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Journal of Adolescent Research, Children and Youth Services Review, and the Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research, among others.

Dr. Munson’s research has been supported through funding mechanisms at the federal, state, and local levels.