The Yale Global Mental Health Program (GMHP) begins 2021 with new teaching and trainee leadership.
Theddeus Iheanacho, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, and Sirikanya (Sanya) Sellers, MD, a first-year resident, are the new faculty and residency leaders, respectively. Both hope to continue to strengthen the program, which promotes awareness of issues of global mental health and social disparities, and helps trainees develop tools to address these issues both at home and abroad.
The program started about nine years ago as an elective for psychiatry residents and fellows but now is open to Yale School of Medicine students and others at Yale.
Iheanacho is only the third faculty leader of GMHP; he replaces Ayana Jordan, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and a graduate of the Yale Psychiatry Residency Program. Iheanacho said the program usually attracts five or six residents who spend the year learning about mental health care systems in different countries and how mental health professionals in other countries practice. They also get to know the challenges of reaching underserved populations across the world.
International in-person experience is incorporated into the curriculum – in the past, residents have traveled to places like Nepal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Jamaica to increase their clinical knowledge of “what psychiatry practice, education, policy and research are like in these settings?” Iheanacho said. “They bring back what they learn to the U.S. There is a lot of value to that.”
The program also works to build a network of people at Yale and outside the university who share interests in global mental health. It seeks to expand trainees’ knowledge of cross cultural psychiatry and provide opportunities for residents to incorporate that new knowledge into their clinical practice.
Among other topics discussed at recent meetings:
- Methadone maintenance in China
- Autism awareness and research in Pakistan
- The Psychiatry Corps program and prayer camps in Ghana
- The changing needs among refugees in crisis, including Syrian refugees in Lebanon
- Disaster psychiatry
- Mental health care responses to the Nepal earthquakes
- Integrating mental health into primary care in Nigeria
- Duration of Untreated Psychosis and Pathways to Care in Jamaica.
- Gaps in child and adolescent mental healthcare access in Nigeria,
Trainees also have opportunities to work with refugees and immigrants who have settled in the New Haven area through partnerships created by the medical school and its faculty.
Iheanacho said he would like residents to receive more recognition for their participation in GMHP. If they complete the elective he would like them to be formally certified in global mental health when they graduate from residency.
“That is one thing that I would like to see happen that is not happening now,” said Iheanacho, who has international experience leading The HAPPINESS Project, which works to increase access to evidence-based treatments for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders in Nigeria. “When there’s an incentive that residents will receive a more concrete recognition at the end of the elective, more residents will participate.”
Sellers is enthused about her new leadership role and said she has many ideas for the program, including how media shapes cultural views of mental health and teaching mental health wellness in primary and secondary schools. She said she has always been stimulated by the learning that takes place when she is immersed in different cultures.
Born and raised in Thailand, she immigrated to the United States during her adolescence which she said contributes to her desire to practice medicine internationally.
“During medical school, I sought out the chance to help during the refugee crisis in Greece and spent a month in a refugee camp providing tea and clothes to the asylum seekers that had survived the journey across the Mediterranean,” she said. “That was a truly humbling experience for me, and raised the question - as a doctor in training, what more could I be doing for people under geopolitical, cultural factors affecting their lives?
“I came back and became a part of the leadership board in our school’s global health program and worked on the student-run clinic for immigrant farmworkers in Central Florida, the majority of whom immigrated from Central and South America countries,” she said. “I learned that global health can be accomplished right here in our own backyard, without hopping on a plane. There is immense healthcare disparity among the immigrant population, and that disparity is compounded when it comes to mental health. I hope that through our work here at the Yale Global Mental Health program we can continue to bridge this gap both locally and internationally.”
She said her career goal is to implement culturally-appropriate mental health policies through international organizations such as the World Health Organization.
“Society and cultural views and stigma play an immense part in how mental health and illness are perceived and thus medically treated. I am excited to learn and drive part of the change,” she said. “I am also honored to get the opportunity to learn from Dr. Iheanacho and other global mental health leaders.”