Finding opportunities to CREATE change in the field of mental health

Finding opportunities to CREATE change in the field of mental health

Jessamyn Little, Medicine Class of 2017, recalls speaking passionately about her interest in mental health advocacy and her desire to help eliminate stigma during her medical school interviews. This summer, she had the opportunity to put her words into action.

After contacting the Office of Global Health to learn about the summer opportunities available to her, Little was put in touch with Dr. Arlene MacDougall, a clinician-researcher with the Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. MacDougall recently developed an initiative called Community REcovery Achieved Through Entrepreneurism (CREATE). Based in Kenya, CREATE is developing a business that is designed to employ people with mental illness and will provide an accompanying toolkit of psychological and social support that promotes recovery and successful reintegration into society.

Little was interested in taking part in the project and applied for a Global Research Opportunities in Health Award. She learned in March that she would be traveling to Kenya for the summer.

Throughout the summer, Little took on a few roles related to the development of the toolkit.

“I worked with two occupational therapists from Canada, and we all collaborated and worked together on different aspects of the project,” Little explained. “That being said, I was specifically responsible for the psychoeducation-piece, developing resources about common mental illnesses that outline symptoms, causes, treatments and other important information.”

Little and the CREATE team also met with focus and support groups, where she had the opportunity to listen to the local people speak about their experiences with serious mental illness, and how stigma has a tramatic impact on them.

“Being involved in a project like this, that gave me the opportunity to work with the local people, was a really eye-opening experience,” she said. “It was so beneficial for me on both a personal and professional level of medical growth.”

With a background in chemical biology and chemistry, there are several paths Little can take with her medical career. Regardless, she will continue to seek out global health opportunities, and continue applying her passion for mental health awareness to her work.

“One thing this experience really instilled in me was that mental health is so important to every area of medicine,” she said. “No matter what area of medicine myself and other medical students choose to go into, it is really important that we are knowledgeable about and aware of these issues so we can be supportive and involved when necessary.”