Professor Mays’ research primarily focuses on the mental and physical health disparities affecting racial and ethnic minority populations. She specifically examines how research can translate into better practices for providers and into better public policies to enhance the overall physical and mental well-being of vulnerable populations.
Her research is shaped by three underlying themes:
- exploring factors related to threats to physical and mental health among underserved populations;
- guiding policy development pertinent to these issues; and
- developing new methodologies to advance the development of science that is responsive to the health and mental health care needs of underserved populations.
She has a long history of research and policy development in the area of contextual factors that surround HIV/AIDS in racial and ethnic minorities. This work ranges from looking at barriers to education and services to understanding racial-based immunological differences that may contribute to health outcome disparities. Her most recent work examines the unique risk environment in the US South that contributes to health disparities.
Other areas of research include looking at the role of perceived and actual discrimination on mental and physical health outcomes, particularly as these factors impact downstream disease outcomes. Her mental health research examines the availability, access and quality of mental health services for racial, ethnic and sexual minorities. She is the co-PI of the California Quality of Life Survey, a population-based study of over 2,200 Californians on the prevalence of mental health disorders and the contextual factors associated with those disorders. Currently her research group is focused on examining mental health disorders using large-scale datasets to determine the prevalence of types of disorders that are found in racial/ethnic groups, with a particular attention to gender. Important in this work are efforts to determine the contextual factors that help explain the differences in mental health disorders. Her research on ethnic/racial populations looks at gender, discrimination (both perceived and actual), socioeconomic status, social capital and a number of structural factors. Her research on sexual minorities aims to extend the thinking on how social status and contextual issues function in mental and physical health in order to better understand psychiatric disorders, risk for HIV infection, physical diseases (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes) and help-seeking for mental and physical health care among these populations.