International Women’s Day dates back 100 years to 8 March 1917 when women textile workers demonstrated in the Russian capital city of Petrograd for improved work conditions and better pay. Before the night was over, protests filled the entire city. Within the week, Emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne and Russia was catapulted into revolution.
With these roots, every year, on March 8th, International Women’s Day celebrates the power of women as agents of change for a more inclusive and gender equal world. On the 100th anniversary of the Russian protests, International Women’s Day 2017 called on citizens around the world to share what it means to #BeBoldForChange. My first stop on March 8th was teaching a class with five extraordinary women from around the world who are members of our Global Mental Health Program. Here are their bold ideas for change when it comes to women and mental health.
1. Tahilia Rebello. Born in India, raised in Thailand and Canada, Tahilia completed her PhD in Neuroscience at Columbia University, interned with WHO in Switzerland, and now serves as Program Coordinator for the WHO Global Field Studies. She is passionate about the environment, hiking, running, sketching, and exploring the world.
“To #BeBoldForChange means that I work each day to challenge the preconceived notions, including my own, concerning what it means to be an emotionally ‘strong’ woman. My professional and personal experiences in the mental health field have taught me that experiencing distress and vulnerability do not equate to faintness of character or weakness. Indeed, mental health concerns are commonplace, and certain conditions, such as depression and anxiety, may impact women to a greater extent. Through my research in the neurosciences and public health, I work to advance our understanding of the complex interplay of biology and sociocultural factors.”
2. Ohemaa Poku. Ghanaian-American public health student, Ohemaa is pursuing her MPH at Boston University in Global Health and is passionate about eliminating the stigma of mental illness. She aspires to create interventions focused on women and children in order for them to thrive and improve their social and economic mobility. After completing her degree, she hopes to return to NYC!
“To me, to #BeBoldForChange when it comes mental health means representing women of color in mental health research and ensuring they have a voice in mental health care. Working with people from underrepresented groups, and especially the women, is essential for them to be able to access quality and affordable mental health care without the fear of stigma. My connections with these women shape not only my future work but also who I am and how I define what makes a strong woman. I will therefore #BeBoldForChange by standing up for these women by ensuring that their mental health rights are human rights.”
3. Sameera Shukanta Nayak. Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Sameera is on her way to a PhD in Public Health. She is passionate about developing sustainable mental health interventions for vulnerable women and children in highly stressful environments. Sameera is especially interested in working with populations affected by chronic violence and conflict.
“My passion for mental health didn’t truly develop until I had my own tryst with depression. Never in my life had I been so debilitated by something that appeared to exist only in my head. I was young, healthy, had a wonderful family, no financial struggles… what issues could I possibly have when people in the world were suffering from hunger and war? I felt as though I was in a glass box screaming and no one could hear me. Fortunately, I had access to services that helped me immensely. To me, to #BeBoldForChange is to work to actively destroy the shame surrounding mental illness, and to ensure that no one suffers because of the myth that mental illness isn’t as “real” as other medical conditions. I hope that in my lifetime I’m able to ensure that people around the world have access to care, and that they can seek help without fear of stigma and discrimination.”
4. Yasmine Van Wilt. A Canadian born in the United States, educated in the US and the UK, with a PhD in the humanities, Yasmine is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, award-wining writer, singer-songwriter and performance artist, and post-doctoral Mellon Research Scholar. Yasmine is passionate about engaging the arts to eliminate prejudice and discrimination of mental disorders through music, writing, and performance.
“I am motivated to #BeBoldForChange because it is my hope that sharing my own struggles with mental health will inspire others to seek support. The false dichotomy between physical and mental wellness perpetuates the dangerous notion that psychological wellness is at worst imagined, or at best less significant than other forms of illness. Through the creation and dissemination of songs, plays and transmedia narratives that explore depression and PTSD, I hope to join the dialogue regarding the global mental health crisis.”
5. Francesca (Maria) Moro. Born and raised in Italy, Francesca is a psychiatrist completing her PhD in Epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. She is passionate about literature and travel.
“As a mental health professional, I’ve witnessed the impact of human rights violations on the mental health of women in general, and of women with psychosocial disabilities in particular. While men with these disabilities also experience abuse, women face the double-challenge related to their gender and their disability, and are especially vulnerable to unique forms of discrimination. In particular, I’ve seen their reproductive rights often violated: forced sterilization/birth-control practices for people with psychosocial disabilities are still a reality, and target mostly women – with devastating consequences on their mental health. For these reasons, for me today #BeBoldForChange means to support these women in their fight to enjoy the right to have relationships and children on an equal basis with others.”
I am proud to know and work with these bold women who envision a better world for all when it comes to mental health. I am sure the Russian textile workers from 1917 would be proud, too.