Columbia University Global Mental Health Council Grant Program

About The Program

The Columbia University Global Mental Health Council Grant Program is an initiative of the Council for the Advancement of Global Mental Health Research to fund new investigators and new ideas in global mental health. All funds raised through the Council will support Council Grant Program recipients to complete innovative research in the area of global mental health.

Faculty listed on this program are the Core Faculty Review Group of the Council Grant Program.

2020-2021 Council Grant Program:

The first Call for Proposals for the Council Grant Program was released in May 2020 and closed on July 15th, 2020. Four grant proposals were chosen for funding for the 2020-2021 school year:

1. Ali Giusto, PhD & Milton Wainberg, MD: Leveraging community strengths to implement a task-shifted alcohol use and family engagement treatment for fathers in Kenya

This study aims to identify factors that will inform the implementation of a task-shifted intervention targeting alcohol use and family engagement among fathers with problem drinking in Kenya. Based on identified barriers and facilitators, a new implementation strategy will be developed to test and scale the treatment in a low resource setting. By addressing the burden of alcohol use, this intervention has the potential to lead to improve family relationships and reduce mental distress among fathers, their partners, and their children.


2. Lola Kola, PhD & Kathleen M. Pike, PhD: Responding to the challenges of Adolescent Perinatal Depression with digital video intervention

Mental health services around the world aspire to leverage technology to improve mental health services. This research project will evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of a digital health intervention to improve mental health outcomes for adolescents with perinatal depression in Nigeria. It will deliver short videos of evidence-based psychosocial interventions to groups of young women in the context of primary care. The research has the potential to improve accessibility and effectiveness of treatment among adolescent mothers, and to demonstrate the efficacy of digital health technologies to enhance the capacity of community care for mental health in low and middle-income countries.


3.María Elena Medina-Mora, PhD & Geoffrey Reed, PhD: Developing a methodology for estimating the Central American migrant population in Mexico and assessing migrants’ experiences and health and mental health status

This research initiative will test a methodology that could for the first time allow an accurate estimation of the size of the migrant population in Mexico as well as their health, including their mental health. While migrants’ wellbeing is often compromised by extreme poverty or violence in their countries of origin and traumatic circumstances experienced during their journey, little is known about migrants’ health and mental health status, associated problems and needs for services. This research will generate critical information that can be used by the Mexican government to address the needs of this population and prevent additional suffering and disease burden.


4.Sandrine Müller, PhD & Sandra Matz, PhD: The impact of COVID-19 and social distancing on mental health across the world: Using smartphones for assessment and intervention

Globally, widespread concerns exist about the mental health consequences of COVID-19. Drs. Müller and Matz will conduct a research project that leverages a unique dataset gathered from over 980,000 users of the mHealth app Moodpath across multiple countries. They will study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global mental health by conducting both between and within-person analyses and comparing the mood and depression trajectories of 2020 to those observed in the same time period in 2019. Given the global nature of the data, the researchers will be able to investigate mood and depression trajectories as a function of the global pandemic and diverse social policies and pandemic experiences.


2019-2020 Council Grant Program:

The first Call for Proposals for the Council Grant Program was released in May 2019 and closed on June 30th, 2019. Four grant proposals were chosen for funding for the 2019-2020 school year:

1. Catherine Carlson, PhD, MSW; Laura Cordisco Tsai, PhD, MSSW; and Milton Wainberg, MD: Cultural adaptation of Safety Planning Intervention for survivors of human trafficking in the Philippines

**COVID-19 Update: Since the February meeting, we were able to complete our qualitative focus group discussions (FGDs) with staff and partners.  The FGDs were transcribed and we are currently analyzing the qualitative data.  We convened our first Working Group meeting to begin the process of the cultural adaptation of the Safety Planning Intervention, which will continue to occur over the next few months.  We were fortunate to be in a phase of the project that does not require any face-to-face or participant engagement.  Staff from our partner organization, 10 Thousand Windows, are facing significant challenges in trying to respond to the COVID 19 crises affecting their clients in the Philippines.  However, they also continue to be dedicated to this study and work remains on track for now.  

Survivors of human trafficking experience elevated suicide risk in comparison to the general population. Anti-trafficking service providers in the Philippines have identified capacity building in suicide prevention as a critical priority for the sector given the insufficient number of trained mental health professionals and lack of culturally adapted evidence-based interventions in the Philippines. In this project, we will develop a culturally informed adaptation of Safety Planning Intervention (SPI) and training service providers within a trafficking-specific economic empowerment program in the Philippines on implementation of the culturally-adapted intervention. Lessons learned in the cultural adaptation, capacity building, and piloting process will be shared with other anti-trafficking organizations in the Philippines to strengthen the capacity of local systems. The project will inform the development of a subsequent R21 proposal to NIMH to pilot the effectiveness and implementation SPI with trafficking survivors in the Philippines.

We aim to: 1) develop a culturally-informed adaptation of Safety Planning Intervention (SPI) within an economic empowerment program for Filipino survivors of human trafficking; 2) build human resource capacity for suicide prevention within an economic empowerment program; and 3) pilot for acceptability and feasibility SPI for suicide prevention for Filipino trafficking survivors within an economic empowerment program.


2. Roberto Lewis Fernandez, MD and Manuela Orjuela-Grimm, MD, ScM: Coping with distress in a new context: self-coping and community resource utilization among migrant teens in the United States

**COVID-19 Update: We have been able to launch our study with virtual assessments. Roberto and I have been able to work efficiently thanks to zoom. So far we have interviewed 3 youth for our instrument piloting after an initial adaptation and translation of the instruments. Our international advisors (Germany, Denmark, Colombia) are also grounded and so communication was actually faster than at other moments….in a bit of silver lining. We don’t know how long our good luck streak will continue, but we have actually been able to focus the study team’s energies on getting this pilot off the ground over the last almost month.

Exposure to violence and hunger during the critical late-adolescent period of development (ages 15-19) can have a lasting impact on mental and physical health. Teens migrating without a parent are frequently exposed to violence and hunger, and European studies show that such youth have elevated risk of PTSD, depression, generalized anxiety, and substance use disorders. However, post-migration protective factors such as use of community resources (sports clubs, church youth groups) that facilitate self-coping strategies (e.g., playing soccer together, praying) appear to be key contributors to their mental health trajectory. Our novel pilot study, CAMINANDO, has recruited 42 such teens in partnership with community organizations in NYC and found that increased exposure to violence is associated with higher symptoms of PTSD, generalized anxiety, and depression and increased exposure to hunger is associated with higher symptoms of generalized anxiety. In preparation for our proposed longitudinal R01 (CAMINANDO-Mental Health [MH]) to further examine the impact of exposure to hunger and violence on the mental health of teen migrants, we will adapt an instrument developed for internally displaced Colombian youth for use in our study population in NYC. We propose a two-stage, mixed-methods approach that will result in a tool to assess utilization of community resources and self-coping strategies pre and post-US arrival in a group of 50 teens who migrated from Latin America without a parent.

Our goals are to: a) inform a larger longitudinal study examining potential post-migration protective factors and b) provide a tool that can be used to measure resource utilization and self-coping in the large number of Latin American migrant teens currently resettled in the US.


3. Tsion Firew, MD; Claire Greene, PhD, MPH; and Milton Wainberg, MD: Developing a screening and referral system for mental health problems among internally displaced persons in Ethiopia

**COVID-19 Update: Currently all field activities in Ethiopia are on hold.  Our partners are employed by the Public Health Emergency Management Directorate, which is the directorate responsible for emergency response within the Ethiopian Public Health Institute and Ministry of Health.  They are currently focused on responding to COVID-19 and do not have the capacity to hire staff to dedicate to our project at this time. They are still committed to achieving the objectives of our small grants project but expect some delays in moving that forward.  We are working with two MPH students to finalize any remote activities we have outstanding and to brainstorm ways to conduct interviews with practitioners remotely through our relationships with NGOs providing support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in our project areas. We have also been considering integrating some questions into our key informant interviews about how COVID-19 has impacted psychosocial health and service delivery in IDP sites.  We are mindful of the current demands on our partners and will see what is possible in the short-term to further our progress toward meeting the project objectives. Any activities that cannot be accomplished remotely will resume once we are cleared to conduct field-based research in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is experiencing unprecedented levels of internal displacement countrywide. The Ethiopian Ministry of Health has identified mental health as a priority concern among internally displaced persons (IDPs). During the IDP crisis, the Ethiopian government and humanitarian agencies have invested in training non-specialists to deliver mental health services, but the implementation and availability of mental health care in these communities has not been systematically monitored. The proposed research aims to identify existing resources for mental health in IDP communities and develop a referral system to link IDPs with mental health problems to services. This research is timely given the planned national mental health assessment of IDPs in Ethiopia, which will require a protocol for these referrals.

The overall objective of this study is to assess existing resources for mental health services in order to develop and monitor a feasible screening and referral system for mental health problems among IDPs and returnees in Ethiopia. Specifically, we aim to: 1) Assess the formal mental health resources available to IDPs and returnees in Ethiopia; 2) Develop and evaluate the feasibility of implementing a screening and referral system for IDPs and returnees with mental health problems; and 3)Monitor the implementation and completion of referrals to mental health services among IDPs and returnees who participate in the national mental health assessment.


4. Franco Mascayano, PhD Student; Ezra Susser, MD, DrPH; and Lisa Dixon, MD, MPH: Early Psychosis Identification Program in Chile

**COVID-19 Update: We have conducted 3 out of 4 of the planned workshops for this study. The research team is now analyzing the qualitative data obtained in those workshops and polishing the initial model regarding pathways to care for individuals with early psychosis within the health system in Chile. We have already identified some potential areas for intervention (e.g., bottlenecks) and started to draft a preliminary version of the Early Psychosis identification (EPI) program. In terms of next steps, we will arrange a round of Zoom calls with the participating stakeholders in order to discuss our findings, refine our model further, and consolidate a draft of the EPI program to be disseminated later. A first report describing these procedures and findings is in development.

In the absence of early intervention, psychotic disorders tend to become long-term disabling conditions. The shorter the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP), the greater the improvements of short and long-term clinical and functional outcomes. Given that approximately half of DUP may occur after health services are initiated, we suggest that a focus on enhancing health services once help-seekers come into contact with providers may be required. This approach is of particular relevance for Chile, where over 70% of the population receive health and mental health care via the health public system. Accordingly, we propose to develop an Early Psychosis Identification (EPI) package comprising outreach and engagement strategies to improve early psychosis identification based on the analysis of the gaps and bottlenecks in existing referral pathways within health services in Chile. We will use a Group Model Building approach, which is a system dynamics-based method that has been used to guide the adaption and implementation of evidence-based practices in varying health settings. Our approach will entail engaging key stakeholders in identifying causal loop diagrams (including variables, relationships, and feedback) that represent the main factors affecting the identification of early psychosis in health services, in order to inform the development and implementation of the EPI package.

Our specific aims are to: 1) Improve our understanding of the gaps and bottlenecks for identification and referral of early psychosis within health services in Chile. 2) Use this understanding to inform the design of the EPI package to improve early identification and engagement. 3) Create a preliminary version of the EPI package to be disseminated and discussed among stakeholders in Chile and other Latin American countries. 4) Develop a grant application aimed at studying the implementation and effectiveness of the EPI package.


The next Call for Proposals for the Council Grant Program will be available in Summer 2021. More information will be available on this website as it becomes available.