News and Announcements

Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service selected to coordinate new statewide center of excellence for behavioral health prevention and promotion

New center will increase the visibility and accessibility of prevention resources to more Ohio communities

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) today announced the selection of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service to coordinate a new statewide center of excellence focused on building infrastructure and capacity to address Ohioans’ mental, emotional, and behavioral health. Efforts will focus on mental health promotion and early intervention to prevent substance abuse or dependency while emphasizing cultural competency and accessibility.

“We know that 75 percent of mental illness and substance use disorders begin before the age of 25,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “By bringing together high quality, evidence-based prevention practices, we can better provide our families and communities with the education, tools, and resources needed to help prevent overdose and suicide and encourage Ohioans to live their best and healthiest lives.”

“While mental health and addiction prevention programs are engaged in work around the state, the Center of Excellence will for the first time provide a centralized, consistent, and culturally relevant approach to advancing prevention services in the state of Ohio,” said Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “This Center of Excellence will partner closely with county Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health boards, prevention providers, community coalitions, faith-based organizations and many others to expand best-in-class prevention resources, training, and supports.”

The Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Prevention and Promotion, made possible by $4.5 million in federal COVID-19 Relief Block Grant funds, comes at a time when the need for quality behavioral health care services has reached historic levels. Consider the following:

  • More than 2.5 million youth in the U.S. have severe depression, and multiracial youth are at greatest risk. Nearly 11% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression that severely affects functioning. The rate of severe depression was highest among youth who identified as more than one race, at 14.5 percent.1 
  • More than half of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment for their illness.1
  • Deaths by accidental overdose in Ohio reached the highest level recorded in 2020 (with incomplete data to date) at 5,018. This was an increase of 33 percent over 2019.2
  • Deaths by suicide in Ohio reached a high point in 2018 at 1,836, following a steady increase every year since 2014. The increases have been highest among Blacks and particularly younger members of this population. Data for 2020 are not final at this time.2
  • Nationally, suicide attempts are up. As of May 2020, emergency department visits for ages 12-17 have increased, especially for girls.3

“I am grateful for this partnership with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services,” Ohio University President Hugh Sherman said. “This investment will help us provide important solutions for our local communities in southeastern Ohio, as well as communities all across the state of Ohio, at this critical time.” 

“The Voinovich School will provide leadership, best practices, research, program development, training, and technical assistance across multiple focus areas and settings in collaboration with statewide and community-based prevention services practitioners,” said Voinovich School Dean Mark Weinberg. “Our collaboration with existing organizations and programs will create a vibrant ecosystem to address mental, emotional and behavioral health issues, aiding not only community organizations doing this work, but also the Ohioans who need their assistance.”

That includes leveraging the skills and expertise of partner agencies to increase the knowledge and abilities of those working in prevention, Weinberg said.

Initial partners will include county Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health boards; faith-based organizations; prevention agencies; schools; and community service organizations. The university also will collaborate with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a long-standing Ohio University partner with a demonstrated commitment to supporting the health and well-being of Ohio’s communities.

“The Center of Excellence will be accessible and responsive to the broader prevention community across Ohio,” said Professor of Leadership and Public Affairs Holly Raffle, who leads the University’s Programmatic Partnership for Community-Based Prevention. “Our goal is to provide the technical and financial support local providers need to make a difference in their communities.”

Of the $4.5 million awarded, close to $3 million will be used to establish a hub for prevention science and to award grants and mini-grants to support the implementation and sustainability of key Center priorities, which include:

  • Support system change efforts to help communities identify local prevention needs and solutions 
  • Enhance multi-sector efforts to support Ohio’s children, adults, and families
  • Advance the use of prevention science for mental, emotional, and behavioral health prevention and promotion
  • Grow and support Ohio’s prevention workforce

The remainder will fund indirect costs associated with the initiative. 

Partners currently include:

  • Problem Gambling Network of Ohio
  • Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program of Dayton
  • Ohio State University Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery
  • Impact Prevention, Inc.
  • Prevention Action Alliance
  • Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation
  • PreventionFIRST!
  • King Consulting and Evaluation
  • Northeast Ohio Medical University – Ohio Program for Campus Safety and Mental Health
  • Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers
  • Mansfield Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Program

“Holly and her team have tremendous experience and connections at the regional, state, and national levels,” Weinberg said. “They have long focused on the prevention of mental and behavioral health disorders and the promotion of good mental health, and the Center of Excellence will not only enhance those efforts but expand them to more communities and Ohioans in need.”

The Voinovich School’s involvement in the new Center of Excellence is only the latest step in its support of programs to promote mental health and prevent substance misuse and substance use disorder. Since 2008, the School through its Partnership for Community-based Prevention has generated nearly $20 million in external project funding from state and federal organizations to provide workforce development and evaluation services related to substance use prevention and mental health promotion. 

For more on what the State of Ohio is doing to address mental illness and addictive disorders, visit the OhioMHAS web page at

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or an addictive disorder, please call the toll-free Ohio CareLine at 1.800.720.9616 to connect with a trained counselor. Ohioans may also text the keyword 4HOPE to 741 741 to access free, confidential assistance through the Ohio Crisis Text Line.  



1The State of Mental Health in America, Mental Health America.

Ohio Department of Health, Ohio+Monthly+Overdose+Report_2020+Preliminary+Data_July2021.pdf

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

November 18, 2021
Staff reports