In April, a KILN scholarship provided me the great opportunity of attending the Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale University. This annual conference, labeled “a meeting of the minds” by CNN, creates an intersection of nursing, medicine, business, and public health, all with the common goal of increasing the health of individuals and populations worldwide. A vast span of topics were covered, and over the two day conference I attended sessions on global mental health, maternal and child health, environmental health, human rights and health care in post conflict areas, health policy, ethics in health care, sustainable community based interventions, research in high need countries, and social enterprise workshops with expert panels. I had the opportunity to network with several seasoned leaders and new but bright and passionate additions to the health care field. I learned about what research is being done in these fields, especially global mental health and human rights in post conflict areas, and what the future needs are within these focus areas. I was exposed to the basics of social entrepreneurship and how new technologies can be used to deliver services to high need areas at low cost. Mostly, I realized that there are many people and organizations doing important work to improve the health and quality of life of people all over the globe, but that the need is far from being met.
Two sessions in particular were very inspiring to me. The first was a session that looked at the intersection of sexual violence, human rights violations, and mental health outcomes in post conflict nations. Not surprisingly, both victims and perpetrators in these conflicts had very high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. Those who suffered psychiatric wounds also had much higher rates of physical disability and poor health correlates, much greater unemployment and loss of productivity, and higher mortality rates. With very few resources for psychiatric care in these settings, new programs to train individuals in the communities to provide psychiatric services are being piloted, and other community based support programs – including theatre and other arts groups – are being used to provide an outlet for emotional anguish to pave the way to healing the individuals affected, and the countries as a whole.
The aforementioned session tied in with another session on the importance of mental health care and services in low income countries. I learned that over 450 million people worldwide are affected by mental health conditions, accounting for 13% of the global disease burden. Seventy-five percent of these people live in low and lower-middle income countries, where there is neither the staffing nor budget to meet the needs. The high prevalence of mental health disorders in these countries affects not only the individual who is suffering, but the family system, and even the community and country at large. This session focused on the economic impact of mental health disorders in these countries, citing staggering numbers of unemployment and lost productivity, which accounted for 7% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the country studied. Because poverty is a major risk factor for many poor health outcomes, the connection can be drawn between untreated psychological disorders, poorer economies, and ultimately poorer overall health of a nation. I was inspired to learn that in many countries with high need, nurses are the primary resource for psychiatric care.
Coming away from this conference, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the needs that exist globally and even locally. But, as I reflected on all that I learned at the conference, I became excited about the many avenues open for making a change, with nursing as the perfect starting point. These avenues may incorporate clinical practice, program design and development, research, and even social entrepreneurship. While the need may be great, in this need, there is a niche for those who want to do all they can to make small or large scale differences in health and quality of life worldwide.