Headshot of Dr. Irene Wong

Irene Wong, PhD

  • Professor

  • Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry (secondary appointment)

  • Interim Associate Dean for Global Studies

3701 Locust Walk, Caster Building, Room D14
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6214
  • office: 215.898.5505
  • fax: 215.573.2099

Research Interests

Description: It has been assumed that given appropriate services and supports suited to their mental health status and needs, persons with serious mental illness (SMI) may maintain community tenure and participate as full members of the community in the least restrictive living environment, as exemplified by independent housing. However, while housing and support services are found to be two critical components in maintaining community tenure, services research has not examined the extent to which housing and service characteristics are related to community integration of persons with SMI living in independent housing. The research project seeks to document the levels of community integration and examine the extent to which housing and service characteristics explain variability in integration among consumers in supportive independent housing. A broadened definition of community integration is used, which encompasses the physical, social and psychological aspects of integration. A sample of 252 individuals was interviewed and their housing characteristics documented using direct observation and administrative data. Staff members of 27 residential support programs were interviewed on the behavioral environment (policy and availability of services) of programs, which provide community supports. Information collected from multiple sources will provide data to test hypotheses.

Project sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health (R24 MH-63220)

Dates: September 2001 to August 2004

Project staff: Irene Wong (Principal Investigator), Phyllis Solomon (Co-Principal Investigator), Julie Tennille (Project Coordinator), Sara Bressi (Pre-doctoral NRSA Fellow), Victoria Stanhope (Pre-doctoral Research Fellow), Amy Hillier (Collaborator), Stephen Marcus (Collaborator), Mike Filoromo (Research Assistant), Alice Chun (Pre-doctoral Research Fellow).

Collaborating agency: City of Philadelphia Office of Mental Health

Project-related publications: 
Wong, Y.L.I. & Solomon, P.L. (2002) “Community integration of persons with psychiatric disabilities in supportive independent housing: A conceptual model and methodological considerations,” Mental Health Services Research, 4(1): 13-28.

Project-related presentations: 
Wong, Y.L.I., Bressi, S., Tennille, J., & Solomon, P. “Adapting Measures of Program Characteristics for Supportive Independent Living.” (Poster Presentation) Seventh Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, January 2003.

Wong, Y.L.I. “Supported Housing: A Viable Approach for Reintegration of Offenders with Psychiatric Disability?” (Paper Presentation) in the First Biennial Conference on “Reentry to Recovery: People with Mental Illness Coming Home from Prison or Jail.” The Center for Mental Health Services & Criminal Justice Research, April 2004.

Wong, Y.L.I., Bressi, S., Tennille, J., & Solomon, P. “Improving the Content Validity of the Group/Organizational Membership Scale for Use with Persons with Serious Mental Illness.” (Poster Presentation) Eighth Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, January 2004.

Wong, Y.L.I., Filoromo, M., Stanhope, V., Tennille, J., Hillier, A.H. “Supported Housing for Psychiatric Consumers: Program Components and Community Integration.” (Paper Presentation) 4th International Conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health, Quebec City, Canada, May 2004.

Description: This research study has three specific aims: 1) to ascertain the circumstances under which formerly homeless people with serious mental illness (SMI) leave permanent housing (PH) programs; 2) to document the post-PH residential careers of leavers; 3) to identify predictors of staying in or leaving PH programs. The research design will consist of two components: tracking leavers and stayers of permanent housing through a longitudinal, integrated administrative data base, and tracking leavers and stayers of permanent housing using person-to-person unstructured interviews. The study will take two years to complete and will involve a sample of 724 people with SMI who either leave or stay in permanent housing with support services in Philadelphia between 2001 and 2003.

Project sponsor: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (Contract, R-2002-R-00124)

Dates: October 2002 to September 2004

Project staff: Irene Wong (Principal Investigator), Trevor Hadley (Technical Director & Reviewer), Dennis Culhane (Senior Technical Associate)

Collaborating agency: Morris Davis and Company

Description: Based on prior conceptual and empirical work on the concept of “community,” this exploratory seeks to engender a broadened notion of community grounded on the experiences and perspectives of people with psychiatric disabilities. Specifically, the study seeks to address the following questions: 1) What are the types of communities persons with psychiatric disabilities consider pertinent to their lives? 2) What are the core domains that constitute the notion of community from these individuals’ perspective? 3) What are the commonalities and differences in the perception of community among subgroups of individuals with different cultural identities and who live in different residential environments? The study has two components: 1) analysis of secondary data from a quantitative study on community integration entitled Community Integration of SMIs in Supportive Housing (, and 2) collection and analysis of primary qualitative data from 90 individuals with psychiatric disabilities using focus groups and semi-structured interviews.

Project sponsor: Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Community Integration of People with Psychiatric Disabilities (Principal Investigator: Mark Salzer;, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), Department of Education

Dates: September 2003 to December 2004

Project staff: Irene Wong, Phyllis Solomon

Description: This three-year project is based on research collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania and The University of Hong Kong.  Building on the expertise of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the fields of health communication, psychiatry, public health, social administration and social work, the goal is to design, evaluate, and disseminate a family-based health messaging intervention to reduce stigma of mental illness among the general public in rural China. The health messaging intervention will be tested in Xinjin County, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, where a 21-year prospective and epidemiological study on mental illness and mental health services has been conducted.  The project team adopts the principles of community-based participatory research by partnering with a community advisory board to guide the design, implementation, and evaluation of an innovative health messaging intervention.

Dates: since 2015

Professor Irene Wong is Associate Professor at the School of Social Policy & Practice. She also holds a secondary appointment as Associate Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania. She has more than thirty years of experience as a social work practitioner, educator and researcher, with an interdisciplinary focus that spans the fields of community development, housing and homelessness, and mental health services research.

Since coming to Penn in 1995, Dr. Wong has been principal investigator and investigator of numerous research projects in the areas of mental health, homelessness, housing, and community integration. With more than 50 publications to her credit, she publishes widely in interdisciplinary and mental health journals including Social Science and Medicine, Social Service Review, Psychiatric Services, Health and Place, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, and Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research.

Professor Wong’s recent research focuses on understanding the cultural manifestation of stigma of mental illness in Chinese society and developing innovative interventions to reduce stigma among persons with psychiatric disabilities and their family members. She is passionate about changing the general public’s perception of mental illness, a medical condition that affects 173 million people in China. She has developed this research agenda with an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural team of researchers from the United States and China.

Professor Wong’s areas of teaching include research in social work, social statistics, understanding social change, homelessness, and mental health with U.S. veterans. She was the Faulty Director of International Programs at School of Social Policy & Practice from 2010-2016. Since 2008, she has been serving as a member of the Hong Kong Social Workers Registration Board Assessment Panel.

SP2 News

Faculty & Research, Global Engagement

International Experts Assemble to Examine, Investigate Public Health and Epidemics

On May 13 and 14, Jennifer Prah Ruger, PhD, and other international scholars and public health experts will assemble in...

Students from the MSSP 797 course in Havana, with instructor Azahara Palomeque

Student Life, Global Engagement

Social Issues Through a Global Lens: SP2 Students Reflect on Their Immersion Experience in Cuba

For students in the Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), having both a...

Faculty & Research

National Survey Examines Emergency Department Management of Deliberate Self-Harm

How routinely do emergency room staff members properly provide help to individuals who present for self-harm? Do they appropriately assess...

SP2 Student Emily Berkowitz presents at the APPAM Student Conference

Student Life

Students Present Policy Research on Housing, Immigration, Harassment

Four students from the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) shared their research across a wide range of...

Discover More