‘Disruptive solutions’ needed to address global mental health

When it comes to addressing mental-health issues in developing countries and marginalized communities, the solution needs to reflect the multi-faceted nature of the problem, according to one Western researcher.

Asking students for input is one way Dr. Arlene MacDougall hopes to tackle this complex problem. Starting this summer, students from all disciplines will have an opportunity to come up with “disruptive solutions” to address the global burden of mental disorders, part of the Global MINDS @ Western Summer Institute in Machakos, Kenya.

The goal of the institute, according to MacDougall, a clinician-researcher with the Department of Psychiatry at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is to come up with new, unheard of solutions to address mental-health issues in low- and middle-income countries, such as Kenya, and for marginalized communities around the world, including ones in Canada.

Dr. Arlene MacDougall, a clinician-researcher with the Department of Psychiatry at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, created the Global MINDS @ Western Summer Institute. This summer, the program will give 10 Western students an opportunity to come up with “disruptive solutions” to address the global burden of mental disorders in Machakos, Kenya.

Special to Western NewsDr. Arlene MacDougall, a clinician-researcher with the Department of Psychiatry at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, created the Global MINDS @ Western Summer Institute. This summer, the program will give 10 Western students an opportunity to come up with “disruptive solutions” to address the global burden of mental disorders in Machakos, Kenya.

“One of the biggest challenges of our time is mental-health issues. The current approaches are inadequate and the burden is only going to get bigger. We really need to re-think how we’re approaching this problem and come up with disruptive solutions, otherwise we’re not going to get on top of it,” said MacDougall, who will be participating in the institute as a Western faculty mentor.

“By ‘disruptive’, I mean we’re not just looking for incremental solutions or little changes here and there. It means flipping the system, flipping the way we deliver services. How we use resources. How we even understand the problem. Something really new, not just a different shade of what we’re already doing.”

From May 21 to June 3, 10 Western students from a wide range of disciplines will travel to East Africa to team up with 10 local students. They will work collaboratively in order to identify complex global mental-health challenges and develop projects and initiatives that will be tested, evaluated and disseminated over a period of up to a year. Faculty members from Western, and from Africa, will work with the student teams as mentors and teachers.

In East Africa, in particular, dedicated resources for mental health are incredibly limited. According to MacDougall, only 0.01 per cent of Kenya’s health budget is dedicated to mental health.

“There’s a lack of financial resources, lack of human resources, lack of infrastructure – and there’s a huge amount of stigma and misunderstanding around mental health and mental illness. People are very much marginalized. There’s stigma here (in Canada) but there, it’s amplified in terms of the discrimination and exclusion experienced,” said MacDougall.

Western students will team up with their African counterparts and, during the first week of the institute, learn about social innovation and key tools and processes used to create innovative change. In week two, teams will focus on a mental-health challenge and work together to develop a solution. Students will then pitch their ideas and business plans to the institute. They will be eligible for funding to help implement their plan over the months that follow.

“The idea is these students aren’t just committing to the two weeks of the summer institute, they are committing to implementing and evaluating their solution,” said MacDougall. “At the end, they’ll provide their final presentation in terms of the outcomes and next steps, and how they plan on sustaining, modifying or scaling what they came up with. These are real problems that are being addressed.”

The curriculum of the summer institute is based on a graduate seminar at Western that launched last fall, but in a more condensed, intensive form.

“We’re seeing the first iteration of this curriculum in the graduate seminar and the students are so engaged. It’s really incredible,” said MacDougall. “It’s supporting and encouraging students to be changemakers – not to just be trainees, but to actually be agents of change, which is very exciting. Coming from a fresh perspective is really valuable in an innovation context.

“You have to really bring a team of different perspectives together to come up with something truly new and disruptive. If you come with an outsider, fresh perspective, you can see opportunities where maybe others can’t.”

Applications are now being accepted for the first summer institute cohort. There are no tuition costs, but students will have to cover travel expenses to and from Kenya. Various funding opportunities are available for participating students, such as Western International Global Opportunities Awards.

Plans are also underway for a 2018 Global MINDS @ Western Summer Institute in London, with the focus on finding solutions for marginalized or disadvantaged populations within Canada.

Have an idea for a “disruptive solution” to address global mental health?

To apply for the Global MINDS @ Western Summer Institute, visit schulich.uwo.ca/internationalization/global_learning/international_opportunities.