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Mental Health

Global Mental Health

Countries trying to develop in the face of adversity (e.g. conflict, HIV, disasters, chronic poverty) face impediments not just in infrastructure development but also in human development. Establishing a physically and mentally healthy populace is a crucial component for promoting development in low-resource countries. Health problems that chronically impair functioning are likely to cause significant social and economic problems by both reduced social and economic contribution by the individual and the increased resources required to care for them. As publicized in the WHO and Harvard University ‘Global Burden of Disease’ reports, common mental illnesses constitute the major cause of dysfunction both globally and specifically in poor countries. 

Together with other faculty in the Applied Mental Health Research Group (AMHR), we have developed and used field based methods to assess the mental health needs of communities affected by torture and violence (Rwanda, Haiti, Kurds in Iraq, Indonesia, Mexico, Iraqi refugees in Jordan), women and children subjected to sexual abuse (Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Cambodia), children living on the streets (Georgia, Albania, India and Mexico) and refugees (Jordan - Iraqi refugees).  In addition, we have completed three controlled trials of mental health and psychosocial interventions (adults affected by HIV and adolescents affected by war in Uganda, adults affected by violence in Indonesia) in collaboration with service organizations and are currently implementing multi-arm trials in Kurdish Northern Iraq and Iraq itself, and are beginning trials of mental health and social-economic programs for survivors of sexual-based violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

In addition, a particular interest of Global Mental Health faculty concerns preventive and promotive mental health interventions. We are conducting several studies in the areas of maternal mental health, the early childhood period, and the integration of mental health in poverty reduction, nutrition, humanitarian, and maternal and child health interventions. To support this area of research, there are strong links with the Departments of International Health; Population, Family and Reproductive Health; Health, Behavior and Society; and the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

Student involvement in the global mental health area consists of research assistance opportunities, particularly with working on reports and papers for publication, as well as advising by faculty members who do work in areas of global mental health.  Relevant coursework includes term-long and summer institute courses in the Department of Mental Health, such as the Cross-Cultural Trans-National Mental Health issues summer institute course, and a course on Mental Health Research Methods in the Developing World. Courses in International Health are also relevant. Many students interested in this program area also pursue concurrent Certificates or Degrees in the Department of International Health. 

Looking Ahead

This program area will continue to develop as we integrate faculty with interests in Economics, School-Based programming, Gerontology, etc. Longer-term plans may include faculty with specific interests in Severe Mental Illness in low-income countries.