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Yale Psychiatry Faculty Member to Interview Tarana Burke, Founder of the #MeToo Movement, for 2021 Women's Mental Health Conference Keynote

April 15, 2021
by Jordan Sisson

The 2021 Women’s Mental Health Conference at Yale (WMHC) has announced that a Yale Psychiatry faculty member will moderate its keynote Q&A, and has finalized the agenda for its upcoming conference.

The two-day conference, to be held virtually starting Friday, April 23, centers the issues of racial justice, healing, and the impacts of COVID-19 on women.

In the spirit of these issues, Carmen Black, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale and outspoken African American physician advocate, will interview Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement, for the keynote Q&A.

The keynote, also cross listed as Psychiatry Grand Rounds, will focus on Burke’s lived experience as a sexual assault survivor, the narrative of her interactions with medical and mental health systems when seeking care for herself and other survivors, and the intersectionality of being a Black woman seeking to advance these causes in male-dominant, public domains without robust representation of people of color. Varuna Srinivasan, MBBS, MPH, a WMHC committee member and incoming co-chair, will facilitate a breakfast discussion with Burke and a selected group of students.

In addition to Black’s work as a community psychiatrist at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, Black is an unflinching advocate for quality care to underserved and minoritized populations. In academic circles, she is a noted scholar describing how the field of psychiatry often exacerbates racial and police trauma in Black and Brown communities when it is simultaneously charged with healing the mental health impacts of that same violence. Hosting Tarana Burke in an elite academic environment like Yale holds additional significance for Black.

“So often as a Black woman in white, male-dominant spaces like medicine, I feel like every step I take is challenged by a critic with a broom who wishes to erase my footprint,” Black said. “So, too, has been the plight of the #MeToo movement.”

Despite sparking the #MeToo movement to aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities, Burke was omitted from much of the media coverage discussing #MeToo after it was popularized in 2017 by several high-profile white, female actresses, Black said.

“My goal for this discussion with Tarana Burke is to create a public window into a private, freely-spoken conversation between two Black women advocates. How do we reconcile the duality of using privileged, white-dominant spaces to advance mental health equity for all survivors while maintaining our identity as authentically spoken Black women? Let us explore how clinicians can help refocus Black and Brown women into the center our own histories and in our own care.”

Srinivasan, a public health researcher in the Yale Emergency Medicine department, described Burke as “a fierce feminist icon.”

“I hope to create a safe space for reflection, dialogue, and healing. I want the breakfast to inspire trainees,” Srinivasan said.

The breakfast will take place at 9 a.m. on Friday before Burke’s keynote.

The WMHC leadership team received over 85 submissions for session topics and accepted 32 to be presented over two days. They fall into the categories of women’s mental health technology and innovation, maternal mental health and perinatal psychiatry, racial justice, trauma, expanding gender and sexuality, and centering untold stories. The accepted 20-minute talks were selected based on their clinical relevance, whether the talks centered under-highlighted areas of women’s mental health, and how well the talks used a virtual format to engage attendees.

Sofia Noori, MD, MPH, Chief Resident of Digital Psychiatry and Chief Resident of Quality Improvement, and a co-founder of WMHC, said she’s particularly excited about a session titled, “Kicking Stigma Off the Couch: Affirming Mental Health Care for Sex Workers" by Corrie Varga, LMFT, Mental Health Services Director at St. James Infirmary. St. James Infirmary is a peer-led health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco.

“With COVID-19 and the rise of digital sex work (and the unique issues with physical sex work during a pandemic), I think it's going to be really enlightening to hear how we can best support sex workers during this time,” Noori said

Noori also highlighted the session, "Maternal Mental Health: Why Is Suicide The Leading Cause of Death for New Mothers?" by Adrienne Griffen, Executive Director of the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance.

“Before I read the title I had no idea that was the leading cause of death for new moms right now, which is shocking and upsetting, and I'm excited to learn more about how we can better support moms (especially during COVID),” she said.

WMHC planning committee member Isabel Torres said she looks forward to “The Body Issue: Using a Graphic Novel as an Intervention for Those Struggling with Body Image” by Nealie Ngo of the University of Toledo College of Medicine & Life Science and Michelle Boose, MD, MPH, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine Chapel Hill. The session will use art, through the practice of graphic medicine, as a way to educate and reframe the way bodies are discussed.

“I think narrative and framing can be important tools for changing negative or potentially harmful misconceptions people may hold about certain illnesses or struggles, so it will be so interesting to see how the presenters have crafted the narrative(s) within the novel,” Torres said.

The full list of available sessions and workshops for the 2021 conference can be found on the WMHC website.

The conference’s marquee panels are scheduled on the topics of Black women’s mental health, reproductive psychiatry, and women’s mental health tech. There will also be two fireside chats: the first, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” with Sarah Deer, JD, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and a University Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, and also a lunch with Michele Harper, an emergency room physician and author of “The Beauty in Breaking.”

WMHC is the first academic and trainee-led women’s mental health conference. It was founded by Noori and co-resident Stefanie Gillson, MD, Chief Resident of Diversity and Inclusion, and is organized by a team with specialties across medicine, psychiatry, public health, business and law.

The conference is dedicated toward improving the wellbeing of women through better training of future health care professionals. It seeks to center issues of women’s wellbeing in the male-dominated health care professions.

The conference is open to all regardless of Yale affiliation and is free to attend, but donations are encouraged. To learn more about the Women’s Mental Health Conference and view the full conference agenda, visit WMHConference.org.

Submitted by Jordan Sisson on April 15, 2021