These Researchers Are Tackling Health Disparities for Underserved Communities

Mental health challenges are not experienced, diagnosed, or treated at equal rates by all groups. In the United States, People of Color are less likely to receive mental health services, more likely to receive lower quality services, and less likely to be insured than Caucasians1, and LGBTQ+ identifying individuals show higher rates of mental illness than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts2. One Mind is proud to spotlight some of the researchers who are working to lessen these disparities in care: 

Dr. AZA Allsop: The Intersection of Music, Mindfulness, and Social Connection

As an artist, neuroscientist, and psychiatrist, Dr. AZA Allsop (he/him/they), Assistant Professor at Yale University, explores how the brain processes social information and how music, mindfulness, and psychedelics can enhance social connections and treat mental health symptoms such as isolation and a lack of social connectedness. Dr. AZA’s work investigates the physiological connection between music and social behavior, revealing how communal music experiences can foster social cohesion and healing. He shares, “We’re now beginning to really understand at the level of the brain how something like harmony overlaps with subjective feelings of social connection in an area like the angular gyrus.” By integrating these natural forms of healing into modern medical practices, Dr. AZA envisions a holistic approach to addressing mental health challenges, particularly within historically marginalized communities.

Dr. Kale Edmiston: Merging Neuroscience and Gender-Affirming Care

“Access to gender affirming care reduces mental health disparities,” says Dr. Kale Edmiston (they/them/theirs), Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Chan School of Medicine. Dr. Edmiston’s research aims to develop personalized treatments for mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression, recognizing the urgent need for tailored care, particularly within the transgender community, where mental health disparities are prevalent, and current treatments often fall short. “Mental health disparities among trans communities are very high,” Dr. Edmiston explains, “There’s a broad scientific consensus that access to gender affirming care for those who require it improves overall wellbeing [and] mental health.” Despite existing barriers, Dr. Edmiston remains optimistic about the future of mental health care. They underscore the significance of joint informed decision-making among patients, families, and healthcare providers, particularly in treating transgender youth with mood disorders, advocating for increased access to gender-affirming care to address mental health disparities and promoting informed healthcare decisions.

Dr. Kacie Deters: The Socio-Environmental Toll on Brain Health Within Communities of Color

Dr. Kacie Deters (she/her/hers) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Early in her research career, Dr. Deters first observed that risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive impairment impact communities of color differently than white communities, “The Black community has a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the second highest group is those who are Hispanic or are Latino, and yet they’re the ones who are typically excluded from a lot of our research.” Since then, she has dedicated her research to tackling this disparity by emphasizing health inequities and inspiring other researchers to change their views on including Black and Brown communities in their research. While cultural barriers exist in Black and Brown communities, she suggests that researchers be thoughtful in considering participants’ lived experiences and systemic risk factors when designing research studies. Dr. Deter asks, “How are we going to truly identify risk factors or predictors for disease if we’re continually comparing them to a group that has a completely different lived experience, including the socioeconomic overall access to healthcare?”  Dr. Deters sees research as an opportunity to drive policy change to diminish the mental health disparities seen in marginalized communities, “There has to be policy change at the government level—whether it’s within cities, state, national—in order to ultimately help alleviate some of these disparity-causing factors for Black and Brown communities.”

Dr. Gwenaëlle Thomas: The Power of Mentorship, Equity and Inclusivity in Healthcare

Dr. Gwenaëlle Thomas (she/her/hers) is a Scientific Project Manager at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development at John Hopkins University and Co-founder of Black in Neuro. As a neuropsychopharmacologist, she studies the brain and how drugs work on psychiatric illnesses, particularly schizophrenia. Her passion for neuroscience began when she witnessed a loved one’s struggle with schizophrenia, revealing the disparities in treatment and understanding of mental illness among People of Color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This experience inspired her to investigate how these inequities affect brain health and access to mental healthcare. Dr. Thomas emphasizes the need to address medical racism and ableism, stating, “There’s a lot of medical racism or ableism behind the scenes that doesn’t talk about how we got to where we are today, and so it’s very difficult to make progress and move forward if you don’t acknowledge what’s happened before.” Through Black In Neuro, she fosters supportive environments for Black individuals in neuroscience and advocates for the crucial role of mentorship in overcoming barriers. Dr. Thomas envisions a future where inclusive technology and resources enable equitable diagnosis, treatment, and understanding of mental illness for everyone.

1 “Mental Health Inequities: Racism and Racial Discrimination,” National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2024,

2 “Mental Health By the Numbers”, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), April 2023,