Applying life and classroom lessons to children’s mental health

Growing up in an Arab-American household, I spent many evenings sitting with my family enjoying black tea with mint while listening to my grandparents’ stories. My grandmother shared how her family and entire village were forced to scavenge for survival after being driven from their homes—a story many Middle East refugees share. My desire to be a health advocate for children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) who suffer from malnutrition and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) began with these stories. Having a personal connection to these inequalities and injustices, I am compelled to work towards ensuring greater access to healthcare and basic needs that are currently unavailable in many parts of the world.

My passion for refugee children’s mental health led me to work with Dr. Jess Ghannam and Dr. Mohsen Malekinejad, mentors who are well versed in the impact of adverse childhood experiences on a child’s mental and physical wellbeing. Recognizing the importance of mental health promotion programs for children, on the one hand, and the limited capacity in LMICs, on the other, my capstone project explores how to successfully implement non-clinical mental health promotion programs in LMICs.

As I work through my systematic review, I have become aware of various approaches to promote mental health among children. This review has shown me that non-clinical interventions implemented in high-income countries can be used efficiently in LMICs if they are adapted to resource constraints and the population they serve.

Prior to conducting this research, I was unaware of how applicable the skills I gained in my master’s courses would be to my capstone project. For instance, the workshop sessions in our Qualitative Research Approaches course prepared me to use coding to identify themes across research projects in a meta-ethnographic approach. Before the MS program, I would not have associated systematic review methods with qualitative research methods, but I have learned just how interconnected research approaches can be.

I am fortunate that I did not have to make many changes to my study as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—in fact, I was already planning on isolating myself to produce my review even before the quarantine took effect! The last time our whole degree cohort was together was, perhaps ironically, at our Communicable Diseases final exam on March 13. Leaving the classroom that morning, I would never have thought that it could be the last time I see some people in my cohort in person.

The IGHS faculty and course assistants have continued to support us throughout this pandemic, for which I am grateful. (I am looking forward to the next trivia night the course assistants host online, because now I know that a tiger’s roar can be heard 3 kilometers away!) We have grown a lot together through this program, and I am excited to see how everyone contributes to the growing field of global health research.