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Global Mental Health Program Seminar Series Receives Award from Kempf Memorial Fund

August 25, 2021
by Jordan Sisson

The Yale Global Mental Health Program’s seminar series has received an award from The Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund.

The Yale Global Mental Health Program began 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. Its mission is to increase awareness of global mental health issues and social disparities while developing tools to address associated challenges in the United States and abroad.

Sirikanya Sellers, MD, Second-Year Resident, and Theddeus Iheanacho, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, are the new trainee and teaching leadership for the program. For this year’s monthly seminar series, the program has focused on bringing in speakers from outside the U.S., who bring perspectives from their community mental health initiatives, programs, research and practice.

The series is currently being held virtually over Zoom and has attracted attendees worldwide since launching in July.

Sellers said the Kempf award will afford the program “limitless possibilities” in how to grow, such as providing speakers with an honorarium, as well as gifting attendees food certificates, internet access cards, or even cameras and microphones for those with technology barriers.

“I think [the award] gives us more room to be creative and really grow the program,” she said. “We don’t have all the details planned out, given potential changes due to the evolving COVID pandemic situation, on how we’ll use this money but that’s exciting because we can brainstorm together ways to use it judiciously.”

The series’ first speaker was Dixon Chibanda, PhD, a Zimbabwe-based professor in psychiatry and the director of the African Mental Health Initiative (AMARI), who founded the Friendship Bench program in Zimbabwe. The Friendship Bench program is based around the concept that a team of grandmothers, trained in evidence-based talk therapy, provide therapy to their community on park benches. Not only does this team of grandmothers make therapy accessible to everyone, it has also been proven to be more effective at treating depression than doctors, Sellers explained.

Tracy Rabin, MD, SM, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Department of Internal Medicine’s Office of Global Health, along with Linda Mayes, MD, Arnold Gesell Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology and Chair of the Yale Child Study Center, and Emily Parton, Licensed Professional Counselor based out of Grundy County, Tennessee, also recently spoke on their collaboration in rural Appalachia and subsequent challenges in school mental health care.

“The goal of our Seminar Series this year is to learn from and highlight programs in resource-limited settings,” Sellers said. “We often focus on individuals from resource-rich areas going to and implementing programs in resource-limited countries. While there is value in that, this year we wanted to be intentional about learning from individuals in resource-limited settings and highlighting their innovative ideas into uplifting their home community. It is important to us to learn from the experts of their community and highlight equitable partnership. It is also exciting because we have a phenomenal line-up including our upcoming fall speakers from England, Australia, Nigeria, and Jamaica."

Sellers said while the program started out specific to Yale Psychiatry, it has received enormous support from the Yale School of Public Health – including with having a student leader from YPH on the leadership team.

“There has been such an overwhelming interest within the Yale community. We are very much looking forward to building an interdisciplinary collaboration with various departments at Yale,” she said.

In addition to the seminar series, the program also highlights residents’ global mental health work through the Yale Psychiatry Residency Global Mental Health Distinction Pathway. The program is currently working on arranging clinical sites outside of Yale through a rural psychiatry curriculum, an initiative led by Paul Eigenberger, MD, Second-Year Resident, and partnering with Rabin and Makerere University, Uganda with the ultimate goal of building clinical site for psychiatry residents in rural clinics in the United States and potentially in Uganda, a project led by Enock Teefe, MD, Third-Year Resident.

There are also resident-led global mental health projects in Nigeria focused on integrating mental health into primary care, which Sellers and Yvonne Uyanwune, MD, MPH, Third-Year Resident, are collaborating on, as well as an initiative centered on improving child and adolescent mental health, led by Amanda Calhoun, MD, MPH, Third-Year Resident.

Findings from these resident-led projects will be presented at the final session of the seminar series in 2022.

Submitted by Jordan Sisson on August 25, 2021