Mental Health Ecological Model Background

Literature Review Methods

A team of individuals from the three UMN units (the Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health, the Extension Children, Youth & Family Consortium, and the Office of Human Resources) and the Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) Child and Family Health Division, created this socio-ecological model.

In 2019-2020, MCH student Teale Greylord (MPH ‘20) conducted a literature review to inform the creation of this model. Teale consulted with the UMN School of Public Health (SPH) librarian to strategize the literature review. Teale gathered sources from team members and did a search of Ovid Medline (health and medicine), PsycINFO (psychology), Scopus (interdisciplinary) and Academic Search Premier (social sciences, social work, etc.).

Resources were entered into Zotero citation manager and sorted by search dates from the earliest publication(s). A total of 175 documents were organized into a detailed matrix or “Evidence Grid,” for consideration. Inclusion criteria included: that the resource/article must contain the terms “mental health” and “ecological systems model” or “ecological systems theory.” Resources were excluded if they didn’t include these terms, were duplicative or inaccessible, the focus too narrow or not specific to mental health. Resources also needed to have strong evidence for the model’s development and source legitimacy. The final number included in this model was 19 resources.

In the summer and fall of 2020, the staff team met frequently and went through four extensive reviews of the final sources. Together, they created or refined statements for inclusion in the current model and discussed next-steps for the model’s development. 

This model is focused on a flourishing, assets-based approach with the intention of moving the conversations from mental illness to mental wellness.

Recommendations for Future Research

  • Often risk factors, rather than protective factors, are focused on in the literature. Studying how to strengthen protective factors will promote positive characteristics and reduce risk factors (exposure to individual and situational risks) of mental health (Nemours). 
  • Early prevention and interventions can impact current/future generations (Bullock et. al., 2015). What might an ecological model based on infant and early childhood mental health look like? 
  • Multidisciplinary approaches and integrative interventions could address multiple risk factors (vs. single-focus interventions) (Mumtumba & Harper, 2015). How could a common “treatment plan” addressing all conditions be utilized to support flourishing (Mumtumba & Harper, 2015)?
  • Sharing processes across research stages, and co-creating research (Scholz et. al, 2019), can build upon foundational knowledge that supports development (Capella & Godfrey, 2019). How might a collaborative approach using local research and practices (Appleton & Hammon-Rowley, 2000) be utilized to develop co-owned resources? 
  • Linking ecological systems theory and social network analysis can form a new conceptual framework of mental health and well-being (Neal & Neal, 2013).

How are You Using the Ecological Model?

Tell us how you’ve successfully used an ecological model (this one or others) to address a complex problem or raise awareness about a nuanced social issue by emailing mch at

Visit the ecological model main page for recommendations for suggestions for how to use this model.