We are living during a period of history that is testing people’s coping skills, resilience, and spirit. I have heard many people say that we have yet to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” when it comes to this global pandemic. That may be true, which is why the sources of light in our lives today are all the more important.
The only antidote to darkness is light,which brings me to this year’s Global Mental Health Summer Interns at Columbia. This year’s cohort of ten university students brought to the program a myriad of interests in culture, neuroscience, brain development, gender, race, storytelling, and more. And despite the constraints of working remotely, they have made valuable contributions to a wide range of research programs under the mentorship of Columbia faculty and collaborators around the world. As we approach the homestretch of their eight weeks with us, this Five on Friday salutes and thanks our 2020 Global Mental Health Summer interns!
Manya Balachander. My passion for refugee mental health led me to apply for this internship, and it has quickly become one of the most rewarding academic experiences I’ve had. The Global Mental Health Internship has given me the opportunity to delve into the research and efficacy behind Mental Health First Aid and Child Friendly Spaces, both of which have been implemented internationally. Working on these projects has given me insight into how mental health is treated and researched abroad. I hope to carry this knowledge with me after this internship into the work I will be doing with mental health advocacy for refugees both domestically and abroad. I aspire to continue my exploration of global mental health intervention and advocacy in higher education, and hope to continue to advocate for refugee mental health and wellbeing.
Kristina Jacobsson. Throughout college, I have always felt passionate about the connections between science and society. Specifically, I am interested in addressing social determinants of health and analyzing how inequities and adversity can impact physical and mental health. It is my hope to go to medical school and become a physician who prioritizes mental health in my practice. Participating in the Columbia Global Mental Health Summer Internship has provided me with a novel outlook on the adversities that can impact someone’s health, particularly on a global scale. I know I will take forward what I have learned this summer and apply it to my future endeavors – hopefully in medical school and beyond!
Alex Jansen. To me, mental health is a complex psychological and emotional state of well being that is constantly changing. In today’s world, people still do not give their mental health the priority it needs, as mental health disorders are one of the most common causes of disability, and have one of the highest burdens of all diseases. Due to the complexity and fluidity of mental health in 2020, with the dynamic of the global COVID19 pandemic, everyone will have individual experiences, which may differ drastically from one person to another. It is this complexity and uncertainty of mental health disorders which makes it so fascinating to study. I have had my own personal experience dealing with mental health issues as have many other family members, friends, and peers. Global mental health research is critically important as it reveals new diagnoses, treatments, prevention, guides, and policy-decision making, which can help to alleviate societal and cultural norms of stigma and discrimination.
Anitra Karthic. Mental and physical illnesses are closely linked together, but the idea of comorbidity often goes unaddressed. Mental illness affects almost everyone in some capacity, but stigma often prevents the conversations we need to empower one another and communities to seek help. Through my neuroscience and sociology coursework, I’ve become curious to understand how different sociocultural determinants of health impact the mental healthcare structures worldwide. Specifically, how do you increase access to mental healthcare services in communities with different beliefs surrounding mental illness? The Columbia Global Mental Health Internship has introduced me to different perspectives and work that go into improving global mental health from education to advocacy to research. In the future, I hope global mental health and care is recognized as the #1 way to increase community morale, welfare, and health.
Sophie Khomtchenko. As a rising senior concentrating in psychology,I was drawn to global mental health for its emphasis on bridging the gap between policy, research, and communities. Last summer, I was a research assistant at Vanderbilt University’s Research on Conflict and Collective Action Lab, studying potential deterrents of institutional violence. While studying abroad in the Netherlands last spring, I trained to assist in a developmental psychopathology lab at the University of Amsterdam. I am specifically interested in education and development, having worked as a TEFL instructor for elementary, middle, and high school students abroad. This summer I am working with Drs. Sabrina Hermosilla and Kathy Pike in conjunction with researchers at the American University of Beirut to understand the relationship between health and education in Lebanese youth using the Participatory Assessment Tool for Mapping Social Connections (PATMSC). I assisted in the development of a scoping review by working on data extraction from peer-reviewed and grey literature and by working to update IRB and funding documents. I also assisted in creating interview questions for key informants in Lebanon in addition to school-aged children and their parents.
Roxy Mistry. I have been fortunate enough to experience many different cultures because I grew up abroad and am biracial. This initially sparked my interest in global mental health as a whole because I have always been fascinated by the treatment of mental health in other cultures. Witnessing people I love struggle with mental health further increased the longing I have to pursue a career in the mental health field and to ultimately help people live happy and healthy lives. I am here at the Global Mental Health Program because I want to learn how we can make mental health care more accessible worldwide.
Xian (Elaine) Ye. Growing up in a community where mental illness is highly secretive and stigmatized, I’ve always wondered when and how we can address mental illness given its detrimental yet often unnoticed effects on one’s health. As an international student, my education in the U.S. and my living experience in China prompt me to learn more about how to understand mental health in different cultural settings and how to make mental health resources accessible to everyone. The GMHP has given me the opportunity to study mental health globally and work on projects that make administration of neurocognitive screening tools for HIV more efficient. In the future, I would like to continue integrating the conversations of mental health in the public health domain.
This year’s Global Mental Health Internship was directed by Ohemaa Poku, a doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who we proudly recognize as the first program coordinator for our Columbia-WHO Collaborating Center. Ohemaa was assisted by Maddy Van Husen who we are delighted to recognize as a former intern. An amazing duo. Thank you, Ohemaa and Maddy!
And thanks to our 2020 summer interns. You have brought new ideas, energy, optimism, determination, and an infectious conviction that the world can and will be a better place if we stay focused on bringing light where there is darkness. Indeed, no need to wait for the end of the tunnel. You are lighting the path forward – here and now.