Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Columbia Students Go Global

Today’s news is replete with lamentations about how Millennials are destroying the good life – from golf to NFL to paper napkins. They are even accused of ruining vacation, Great Britain and sex. I don’t know who the reporters are talking to, but I can assure you they are not talking to my students. One of the absolute best parts of my work is mentoring students – who happen to be Millennials. And the Millennial students I know are busy making the world a better place.

Photo: Ian Rodgers at Olumo Rock in Nigeria

This summer, six students from our Global Mental Health Program at Columbia are scattered about the globe working with local partners to learn about and contribute to addressing mental health priorities – globally and locally.

1. Brazil – Marie Onakomaiya: Marie grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria. Her MPH practicum placement is in the Psychiatry Department at the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP) in Brazil. As an MPH student, she is working with Dr. Jair Mari on research about mental health risk factors and outcomes among high-risk adolescents in Brazil. First impressions: “There is a lot of rigorous research happening, especially in academic psychiatry, which is one of the most productive fields in Brazil.” Marie will also observe clinical care in Brazil through site visits to the autism and substance use clinics. Her goals for her time in Brazil are threefold: to contribute to mental health care in Brazil through research efforts, to build long-term relationships for future research collaboration, and to speak Portuguese at an intermediate level.

2. Nigeria – Oluwabusayo (Ayo) Ojo and Ian Rodgers: Ayo Ojo, is a second year MPH student focusing on epidemiology and global health. Ayo’s field placement is in the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital of Aro in Ogun State, Nigeria. “I had always heard of the facility at Aro, Abeokuta as a child because the name itself carried a lot of stigma, but I had never visited,” Ayo explains. As understanding about mental health has increased in Nigeria – beyond religious constructs and supernatural affliction – the public perception of this hospital has shifted and mental health treatment programs have been integrated into primary health care. Ayo is supporting these mental health programs in primary care during her summer practicum. “I hope to play a role in creating a comprehensive database to record patient information for the program,” she explains. Her main goal, though, is to learn, understand, and practice navigating cultural barriers and its effects on health delivery.

Ian Rogers, who is working towards an MPH in epidemiology and public health and humanitarian assistance, is also stationed for the summer at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Aro. His first impressions challenge his pre-conceived notions. “I am impressed by the degree to which mental health workers have overcome many obstacles to achieve high-quality and accessible mental health care.” In his summer practicum, Ian hopes to learn from his Nigerian colleagues’ experience adapting evidence-based guidelines and practices to reflect Nigerian culture. He also hopes to contribute by helping to develop a program of self-help groups at the primary healthcare level. “It is a new initiative taken on by the nurses, and I hope to be able to contribute to that effort.”

3. South Africa – Mary Raddawi: A rising second year medical student, Mary has landed at the University of Cape Town Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for her summer placement. She first noticed that things aren’t so different halfway around the world. “Women across countries feel a stigma to talk about having any mental health issues, particularly new mothers who feel society will shame them for not being ecstatic after the birth of a child.” She knows from the literature, though, that the rate of maternal depression in South Africa is three times higher than in high-income countries like the U.S, likely because of risk factors like poverty, abusive households, and HIV. In her practicum, Mary aims to learn more about how maternal depression in South Africa is shaped by its unique history and culture. She also looks forward to exploring the beautiful country. “I continue to be fascinated by the history and people I meet. I know I will learn much from the people around me.”

4. Lebanon – Nicole Khauli: An MPH student in epidemiology, Nicole’s summer field placement is Beirut, Lebanon, the country where she grew up. Settling into the American University of Beirut Medical Center, Nicole first noticed that mental health care is still a highly stigmatized component of the health system, despite Lebanon’s evolving health framework (mental health was recently integrated in 2015 in the National Mental Health Program). “What I hope to accomplish in my practicum is to be more involved in mental health research in this setting and be able to contribute to my society in any way possible (prevention, intervention, and treatment).”

5. Brazil – Amruta Houde: An MPH student in sociomedical sciences and global health, Amruta’s summer practicum is at the Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo in Brazil. When Amruta arrived, she was immediately struck by the gap between awareness (which is low) and care available (which is high) in the general population – and the lack of sufficient financial investment and academic research/training support. “What I hope to accomplish in my practicum is to gain a greater understanding of the cultural factors influencing the understanding of mental health and policies which have shaped mental health care infrastructure in Brazil.” 

As opposed to the doomsayers, I am excited to know that the future is in the hands of these students and their millennial peers.

Picture of Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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