Michelle R. Munson

(212) 992-9731

Areas of Expertise

Mental health services and interventions research; mood, anxiety, trauma and stress-related disorders; influence of social relationships; social isolation; service use decisions; developmental transition from adolescence to adulthood


Michelle Munson is a Professor at NYU Silver. She has professional interests in mental health services research and intervention development and testing, and her work centers on adolescents and young adults.

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 seek) professional mental health services. Her research and scholarship also seeks to develop, refine, adapt, and test engagement and treatment interventions for adolescents and young adults with serious mental health conditions.

Dr. Munson and her colleagues are refining, testing, and adapting 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. Dr. Munson’s research centers the perspectives of youth, their families of choice, and their providers in order to develop services and intervention strategies that match the views of those who use them.

Just Do You is a brief meta-intervention for young adults experiencing one of their first-contacts with the adult 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 critical time intervention, trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, peer support, mentorship, and extensive “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 professional mental health care relative to “alternative options” young adults use to manage their mental health symptoms. 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 and the multiple strategies that young adults choose to use to manage their mental health. 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 preferred approaches to manage their health as needed.

Read more about these projects and others at the Youth and Young Adult Mental Health Group.

Broadly, Dr. Munson’s research focuses on answering three related questions among 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 (or lack of 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 and 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 and 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 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.

Dr. Munson earned her PhD at Washington University in St. Louis, her MSW at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and her BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.