Mental health hotline, listening groups among ideas U of T students pitch for global health competition

Team places second at Emory competition

A team of public health students at U of T developed a four-pronged strategy to reduce stigmatization of mental illness and special needs in Liberia to secure second place in a global competition at Emory University. 

Their strategy combined radio programming, a mental health telephone helpline, community events and listening groups to deliver mental health education, address isolation, as well as promote social cohesion and youth empowerment.

A multidisciplinary team of University of Toronto graduate students presented their case: ProVision: Addressing Adolescents’ Mental Health Needs in Monrovia, Liberia, at the 2017 Emory Global Health Case Competition on March 25. They also received the Participants’ Choice Award.

“We learned a lot from both our Rotman and faculty of law teammates,” said Corey McAuliffe, a third year social and behavioural health sciences PhD student who elected to enter the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s first-ever team into this competition so she could examine a global health problem through an interdisciplinary lens.

“We each had specific ways of thinking or terminology that were foreign to those not in our own area of study. Our Rotman team members helped the public health students to understand design thinking, which was incredibly influential to our process and final intervention,” she said.

“Additionally, I learned what a PowerPoint presentation is actually supposed to look like. Our final slide deck was so engaging and powerful, and quite honestly a work of art. I don't think I'll ever look at a PowerPoint in quite the same way again."
The student team consisted of six graduate students from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Rotman School of Management and the Faculty of Law including: McAuliffe, Shamim Ahmed (first year PhD – social and behavioural health sciences), Tina-Marie Assi (second year MBA at Rotman School of Management), Gillian Cook (second year JD/MBA at the Faculty of Law and Rotman School of Management), Mónica Rosas Calderón (first year MBA at Rotman School of Management), and Christopher Tait (third-year PhD – epidemiology).

“I suspect what made our presentation stand out was our use of storytelling and a user-centric design process, which came out in our slides and delivery,” Assi said. 

Every spring, Emory University hosts 24 teams from universities across the globe for the five-day competition. During those days, each team develops and presents a solution for one global health case study, competes for cash prizes, and networks with each other and expert judges.

The team developed a strategy to reduce stigmatization of mental illness and special needs (e.g. physical and mental disorders) among adolescents in Monrovia, Liberia, by focusing on education, mental health literacy, and increasing the pathways to health care. 

“It was extraordinary to watch the students come together as a team – I have never seen a group model the ideals of multidisciplinary collaboration so well,” said Uttam Bajwa, a post-doctoral fellow in DLSPH’s Office of Global Public Health Education and Training, who served as the team’s mentor.

Bajwa supported the team in Atlanta during their case presentation. What set the group apart, she said, was how their model was evidence-based, involved rich community consultation, and demonstrated sensitivity to power, politics, and privilege in global health work, especially the need for meaningful, mutually beneficial partnerships.

“My congratulations to our outstanding case competition team for developing a compelling evidence-based solution to a wicked global health problem,” said Erica Di Ruggiero,assistant professor of social and behavioural health sciences and director of the Office of Global Public Health Education and Training.

McAuliffe offered this advice for students who are considering entering a team in this competition:

“Be ready to work extremely hard and be open to challenging previous conceptions. Make sure to build a strong foundation and a solid rapport with your teammates. And most importantly, be humble and keep it lighthearted. In the end, the competition is about fostering an understanding of interdisciplinary teamwork and fostering relationships with your teammates and colleagues.”

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