Fighting Stigma

Global Mental Health Open Day event to address complex challenges

In an effort to inform the community about the importance of mental health, Harvard University and HMS will host Global Mental Health Open Day, a three-day event dedicated to celebrating the diversity of global mental health activities beginning Thursday, Apr. 5. 

One of the event’s organizers, Vikram Patel, the Pershing Square Professor of Global Health at HMS, said he hopes it will help promote interdisciplinary learning and foster collaboration between the diverse academic fields of the Harvard community through education, research, innovation and engagement.

"We are talking about prevention, healthy development across the life cycle and human rights.” —Giuseppe Raviola

“We have to step out of the comfort zones of our own disciplines,” Patel said. “Mental health is one of the leading concerns of health and development, not just globally but also within the Harvard community, and we will need partnerships of ideas and efforts to address the complex challenges facing global mental health.”

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The event, sponsored by the Harvard Global Health Institute, HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, begins on Thursday, April 5 and continues through Saturday, April 7. Registration for the event closes Sunday, April 1.

Giuseppe Raviola, HMS assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital, said he hopes the Global Mental Health Open Day will encourage a broad vision for understanding mental health and illness, rather than simply promoting a medical model and approach.

“We’re not just talking about psychiatry; we are talking about prevention, healthy development across the life cycle and human rights,” Raviola said. “Mental disorders are the most significant cause of disability, globally. Stigma related to mental health and mental illness exists in all societies.”

The event kicks off at Harvard’s Cambridge campus with a Mental Health Hackathon on Thursday night. It continues on Friday with a lunchtime discussion of student mental health followed by student led workshops. In the late afternoon and evening, there will be TED-style talks by Harvard faculty. A reception and student performances will follow.

The second day of the event will begin at HMS at 9 a.m., on Saturday, with a welcome that includes words from Patel and Paul Farmer, the Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine and head of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at HMS.

The day will continue with keynote speakers Shekhar Saxena, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and Ken Duckworth, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The other afternoon events will include various panels and workshops, as well as an awards ceremony for Thursday’s Hackathon. The day will conclude with an informal networking event.

“My hope is the initiative will inspire the community of Harvard—from students to faculty—to think of novel ways to address mental health,” Patel said.

Raviola, who is also assistant professor of global health and social medicine at HMS, emphasized the importance of providing students with mental health resources and information.

“Students have had a growing interest for years,” Raviola said. “It has not historically been easy for students to access these opportunities and expertise.”