Dr Alex Cohen, Course Director for the MSc Global Mental Health, introduces his course and students, and talks about how he hopes this programme will forge global networks of people concerned with global mental health.
Until the past decade, concerns about global mental health were mostly confined to anthropology and transcultural psychiatry programs, in which the object of study was, for the most part, variation in causal attributions, the presentation of states of distress, and traditional healing practices. There were exceptions prior to this – several high profile reports, WHO’s efforts to guide the organization of mental health services in low and middle income countries, and a few small educational programs – but global mental health did not appear in the curricula of academic public health and medicine.
This has begun to change. There are now a number of post-doctoral and medical school programs in global mental health, particularly in the United States, e.g., Yale, Harvard, Emory, Columbia and the University of Washington. However, the topic of global mental health remains all but absent from the curricula of schools of public health. This is unfortunate given the public health burden of mental disorders and that interventions for mental disorders are not, by any measure, confined to biomedical approaches. A public health orientation to global mental health is necessary so that the field is able to apply intersectoral perspectives to meet the complex challenges posed by the task of providing feasible, acceptable and effective interventions in a variety of sociocultural settings. For that reason, global mental health needs people from a variety of backgrounds and who are capable of assessing and conducting research, designing, implementing and evaluating interventions, formulating policies based on available evidence, overseeing funding programs for governmental and non-governmental organizations, advocating for mental health system strengthening and providing critical viewpoints that prompt the field to be reflexive about its activities and goals.
The MSc in Global Mental Health, a program that is offered jointly by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, aims to offer students a grounding in a variety of areas: research skills (statistical and epidemiological methods, design and evaluation of programs), critical analysis of the field, putting theory into practice through the scaling up of programs, and a number of elective modules that are offered at the School and IoPPN. In addition, students have the opportunity to meet and interact with researchers from the Centre for Global Mental Health who are working in a variety of settings across the world and are involved in testing and implementing programs and policies for a range of mental health conditions. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the program is the Summer Project. Under the supervision of academic staff, students conduct a research project, e.g., secondary analysis of qualitative or quantitative data, systematic review, program evaluation, or development of a research protocol that becomes the basis for their dissertation. The research and the writing up of the results not only consolidates their learning but, after some revision, may lead to a publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
One of the most interesting aspects of the program is the variety of backgrounds and experiences that students represent. Some of the students are recent university graduates while others are professionals returning to university. They come from a broad range of disciplines, e.g., anthropology, psychology, social work, psychiatry, general medicine, and from countries throughout the world. They do not always agree with each other or with academic staff but come to recognize the need for a diversity of opinions and approaches to common problems.
The program is now only in its third year but we are already seeing its effects. For example, many of the students have gone on to PhD programs, some have interned with the WHO, and some are now working with NGO’s, think tanks, and research projects. But maybe the most important outcome of the MSc is the following: I would like to think that the friendships forged during the year of study will become life-long and form the basis of global networks of people concerned with global mental health.
There are many ways to learn more about this programme. Hear students and teachers discuss their experiences in the Global Mental Health MSc Virtual Open Day video or by contacting current students. Read past student blogs from a MSc alumna, or this month’s blog series on MHIN. Visit the MSc webpages on the Centre for Global Mental Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and King’s College Institute of Psychiatry websites for more.