Global Mental Health

Mental illness is a major public health problem around the world and a leading cause of disability, yet in some low and middle income countries as many as 85% of people with mental health conditions don’t receive effective care. As a result, people die younger, endure disabling conditions, are less productive, and suffer from poverty. Mental illness affects individuals, families, and communities which all contribute to reduced productivity for a country as a whole.

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences promotes global mental health by developing innovative and cost-effective interventions, working to address the global shortage of mental health professionals through effective workforce development programs, and partnering with local, national and global organizations to raise awareness and knowledge about mental health disorders. Our efforts are intended to be bidirectional. While we hope to bring ideas and proven treatments to other countries, we are simultaneously learning about innovative and cost-effective adaptations of these ideas that will ultimately help us deliver better care here at home. Our ultimate goal is to help the billion people who suffer from mental health or substance abuse problems worldwide get the care they need and deserve.

Sample Research Projects 

Promoting School-Age Emotional Health in Malawi
Over 60% of girls living in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, drop out of primary school due to poverty, orphanhood, long travel distances between home and school, and pregnancy. This project promotes positive emotional health for school success by developing a Community Sensitization Program to raise awareness of parenting practices that support children’s school readiness and engagement. Investigators: Ann Vander Stoep, PhD; Elizabeth McCauley, PhD; and Laura Kastner, PhD.

Building Mental Health Research in Kenya
To help build Kenya’s mental health infrastructure and research capacity, UW faculty are providing in-person training and on-going mentorship to University of Nairobi faculty and post-graduates as well as assisting with the development of a Mental Health Resource Center. This three-year award builds upon the nearly 30-year research training collaboration between UW and the University of Nairobi. Investigators: Deepa Rao, PhD; Jürgen Unützer, MD. MPH; Debra Kaysen, PhD; Ann Vander Stoep, PhD.
 
Adapting Trauma Care to Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Several international research projects in our department are aimed at adapting treatments for people who have experienced trauma in low and medium resource settings, such as torture survivors in northern and southern Iraq and rape victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Clinical trials that have adapted Cognitive Processing Therapy (CBT) in these settings highlight the challenges facing providers in areas where clinical need is high and resources are limited. Our department is working to develop effective interventions with these challenges in mind. Investigator: Debra Kaysen, PhD.
 
Investigating Gender-Based Violence and Preterm Birth in India
India has the highest absolute number of maternal deaths, preterm birth cases, and under-five mortality in the world. India’s high gender bias-based violence rates may contribute to this picture. This project found that physical and psychological abuse, and mild or greater depressive symptoms, contributed to preterm birth, while maternal education was protective. The findings suggest that further research should focus on understanding the psychosocial antecedents to preterm birth, to better target interventions, and improve maternal child health in limited resource settings. Investigators: Deepa Rao, PhD, MA, Debra Kaysen, PhD.

Treating Depression and Diabetes in India

This NIMH funded project is a collaboration between the University of Washington, Emory University and three sites in India (Chennai, Delhi, and Visakhapatnam). The project adapts the multi-condition TEAMcare model developed at UW Psychiatry to treat patients with poorly controlled diabetes and comorbid depression at these three sites and build on a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Center for Excellence grant established in India by Emory University. An initial one year qualitative study will help from our research team has adapted TEAMcare to the unique aspects of Indian culture and medical systems. Investigator: Wayne Katon, MD; Deepa Rao, PhD; Jürgen Unützer, MD, MPH

WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP)​
The World Health Organization's Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) aims to scale up services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders for  low- and middle-income countries. The program asserts that with proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication, tens of millions of people could be treated for depression, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, prevented from suicide and allowed to lead normal lives– even where resources are scarce. Consultant: Jürgen Unützer, MD, MPH.

World Innovation Summit for Health​
The World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) is a high-profile initiative that aims to promote and facilitate innovation in the delivery of healthcare around the globe. Consultant: Jürgen Unützer, MD, MPH.

Expanding Mental Health Care in Vietnam
As is true throughout Southeast Asia, persons with mental illness in Vietnam suffer from stigmatization and under-resourced care. But things are changing. Vietnam is experiencing rapid economic expansion with a semi-market driven economy, and concurrently, attitudes about caring for individuals with mental illness is shifting. UW faculty are working with the leadership at Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy to expand its capacity to provide mental health care in Family Medicine. Investigator: Richard Veith, MD.

Partnerships
UW Program on Global Mental Health
The Program on Global Mental Health is a regional interdisciplinary forum for research, training, and service-related activities aimed to address gaps in the implementation of effective global mental health interventions housed within the UW Department of Global Health. Jürgen Unützer MD, MPH and Jane Simoni PhD co-direct the program with Deepa Rao, PhD who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Global Health.
 
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to partner on research, training, and capacity building efforts in the areas of Global Health and Maternal and Child Mental Health. The vision outlined in the MOU is to develop, evaluate, and help implement cost-effective interventions to improve mental health and well-being in underserved populations in low and middle income countries but also in rural or otherwise underserved areas of high income countries such as those in Europe or the United States. Visit the Centre for Global Mental Health to learn more about the London School’s work in this area.
 
Training Opportunities
 
​Global Health Fellowship Program
This 11-month clinical research training program is for post-doctorate trainees and doctoral students in the health professions, sponsored by the NIH’s Fogarty International Center (FIC) in partnership with several NIH Institutes and Centers. The University of Washington’s Department of Global Health is a consortium university.
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