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Memorial fund continues to support training in social psychiatry

February 14, 2013
by Shane Seger

Established in 1955 in memory of Bertram H. Roberts, MD, then an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, the Bertram H. Roberts Memorial Fund provides support for medical students and residents to complete projects in the field of social psychiatry.

Dr. Roberts was well known for his contributions to the field of social psychiatry, which focuses on the interpersonal and cross-cultural context of mental illness and treatment modalities.

Dr. Roberts perished in a tragic accident on August 12, 1955. On that day, he and his wife, Frances, were aboard a schooner that capsized in Chesapeake Bay during a hurricane.

Following the death of Dr. Roberts, Fritz Redlich, MD, then chair of Yale's Department of Psychiatry, called Dr. Roberts "a man of great promise, one of our outstanding young researchers and teachers."

Family, friends and colleagues of Dr. Roberts launched the memorial fund less than a month later. Originally intended to endow an annual lectureship, the fund's use was expanded in 1973 to support summer stipends for medical students. In 2012, the Roberts family agreed to a new expansion that allows the fund to support residents.

The opportunities made possible by the fund continue to be meaningful to the Roberts family.

"Our family is so pleased that more trainees will have access to the fund," said Dr. Roberts's widow, Frances Roberts. "The department is now able to meet important needs, and the fund's impact is limited only by the imaginations of the recipients."

Also affiliated with Yale, Mrs. Roberts received her master's degree in early childhood special education from the University in 1946. She served as Public Information Officer in the Connecticut State Department of Mental Health from 1959 to 1975. And, during the establishment of the Connecticut Mental Health Center she was assigned to spend one day a week addressing issues between Yale, the State of Connecticut, and the community.

Mrs. Roberts co-founded the National Committee on Mental Health Education, serving a term as its president, as well as a term as president of the Connecticut Public Health Association. Dr. Roberts was survived by two daughters: Dr. Priscilla Roberts, a psychologist with the state court system in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Maggie Barkin, an English teacher at Amity High School in Woodbridge, CT.

The first awardee from the expanded fund, Anna Fiskin, MD, a second-year psychiatry resident with training in social and cultural psychiatry and a background in medical anthropology, worked on a project that aims to create a sustainable mental health plan for Nepal.

For more than a month, based primarily at the Centre for Global Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and working in conjunction with HealthNet TPO/TPO Nepal, Fiskin organized and analyzed data from focus group interviews of Nepalese stakeholders. Her task was to draft sections of a report on the delivery and recovery of psychiatric services in that country.

The Centre for Global Mental Health and HealthNet TPO are partners in the Programme for Improving Mental Health Care (PRIME).

"There are very few psychiatrists and a lack of resources available for mental health in Nepal," said Fiskin. "The PRIME team hopes to identify the combination of task-sharing, training, compensation, infrastructure, and supervision that will be required to launch a mental health program that can succeed there."

In addition to the real-world impact of the PRIME project, the work has been an important learning opportunity for Fiskin. "Through this opportunity I met leaders in global mental health, got some great experience analyzing qualitative data, and have learned a whole new skillset," she said.

The Bertram H. Roberts Memorial Fund and others like it have been critical to the department's training program.

"The generosity of donors allows us the flexibility to take advantage of unique opportunities as they present themselves and to marshal resources on behalf of worthwhile projects," said John Krystal, MD, the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Professor of Translational Research and chair of Yale's Department of Psychiatry. He added, "We are so appreciative of our continued relationship with the Roberts family and all of the donors that make this type of support possible."

In addition to the generous financial support, Mrs. Roberts recently donated a collection of books for the department's library. Many, from her personal collection, were personal gifts from Dr. Redlich.

The department plans to continue the Bertram Roberts Memorial Lectureship in 2013.

Submitted by Shane Seger on February 14, 2013