Pamela Collins
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Pamela Collins is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she directs the Global Mental Health Program (GMH), a joint effort of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Global Health. She is a psychiatrist and mixed methods researcher with 25 years of experience in global public health and global mental health research, education, training and capacity-building, and science policy leadership. Dr. Collins’s research has focused on social stigma related to mental illness and its relationship to women’s health behaviors; the intersections of mental health with HIV prevention, care, and treatment; and the mental health needs of diverse groups in the US, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

In this Q & A, Collins discusses the GMH program, its goals, and its projects, and shares her views on some of the biggest issues currently facing the mental health field. 

Q: What are the goals of the GMH program at the University of Washington?

With the start of 2020, my colleagues and I are beginning to implement our strategic plan for UW Global Mental Health. Our overarching goal is to help reduce the suffering related to mental health problems in low resource settings around the world. To do this, we develop, test, and build capacity to deliver contextually-appropriate and sustainable models for mental health interventions with local and global partners.

Our three strategic directions are to 1) understand mental health intervention gaps and opportunities in the places where we work, 2) build workforce capacity to deliver mental health services, and 3) elevate mental health on the global and local agenda.

We can’t do this alone, of course. We particularly value building and deepening our network of collaborations with partners here at UW, in Seattle and King County, and around the globe.

Q: What projects are you most excited about within the program?

I’m excited about all of our work. Our faculty and staff are involved in a broad range of projects, many of which focus on extending access to mental health care by integrating various mental health interventions into schools, community-based primary care clinics, maternal and child health settings, HIV care settings, etc.

Over the past month, several of us have been very actively involved in supporting the World Health Organization (WHO) as it launches its Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health. Our current role is to work closely with the first 6 countries selected for the Special Initiative (Bangladesh, Jordan, Paraguay, Philippines, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe) to conduct situational analyses of their mental health systems.

This has been a wonderful collaborative learning experience. We presented the preliminary synthesis of information in Geneva a few weeks ago, and we had the opportunity to hear each country team’s emerging priorities for the initiative. We are now in the process of working with our country partners to finalize these snapshots of mental health services in their health care systems and communities.

Q: What advice would you have for someone looking to get more involved with global mental health?

I would say this is a great time for getting connected. One option for connecting is to choose a global mental health conference to attend annually. Another is to stay abreast of what’s happening by joining global networks that advocate for mental health. The Movement for Global Mental Health is one such network. Similarly, the Mental Health Innovation Network is a Web site that indexes and displays a variety of mental health interventions from around the world. They also host webinars from time to time. You can register at the site and receive notices of upcoming events.

If you want to plug into global mental health activities locally, stay tuned to this newsletter and to our UWGMH Web site. Our program faculty and staff can also help you connect to their projects. As you explore the landscape—both locally and globally—look for mentors or advisors who can help guide you.

Q: What do you believe is the most pressing issue we face within the field of mental health?

A: That’s a question we could struggle with in every issue of this newsletter. We have several interconnected issues, so it’s difficult to single out just one. So, let’s start with one piece of the problem. In many settings (and I would argue that this is true here, also), although rigorous research has shown that certain kinds of mental health interventions are effective, the financing required to sustain these interventions and make them available throughout the population is insufficient. As you may know, globally, countries spend, on average, around $2 per person per year on mental health care.

But scaling up treatment or preventive services requires more than funding. Real world implementation of services is complex, and this is one of the areas where we as a program hope to go deep—in studying the best methods for implementation (e.g. through implementation science), and by working with our implementation partners to apply their best practices, as well as to identify barriers in the process.

Other pressing issues relate to the very real needs of specific populations. We have a special interest in the mental health needs of children and adolescents. Childhood and adolescence can be periods of great vulnerability to the development of mental health conditions, but also a powerful time for intervening to preempt mental health problems and to reduce the potential disability associated with those conditions that may be developing. Similarly, managing the mental health care needs of women as they prepare for motherhood and beyond provides an opportunity to save lives and to influence the mental health and wellbeing of women, as well as their families.

Social stigma and associated discrimination related to mental and substance use disorders continue to influence health and mental health outcomes for many people around the world. Among our emerging priorities are to address the needs of people particularly affected by these social stressors, particularly people with severe mental disorders and people with substance use disorders.

For more information about the UW Global Mental Health program, visit the Global Mental Health website.