UCPH team addresses children’s mental health in Liberia – University of Copenhagen

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11 July 2017

UCPH team addresses children’s mental health in Liberia

Six students represented the University of Copenhagen at the international Emory Global Health Case Competition in Atlanta, USA.

From left, Sine Hjuler (Communications), Mark Khurana (Medicine), Diana Isabel Sotomayor (Global Health), Christopher Richard Hansen (Anthropology), Regina Höllriegl (Global Development) and Amalie Paludan (Law).

Global health competition for university students
This year, our interdisciplinary team was tasked with the not-so-small challenge of improving mental health among youth and adolescents in Monrovia, Liberia. Over the course of a week, we gathered in Emory University along with 140 students of 24 university teams from different countries, to each develop a creative, innovative and evidence-based global health intervention to tackle the increasingly high burden of mental health issues in the Liberian capital.

Benefits of an interdisciplinary and international team
For the competition UCPH assembled a team of students from six different programmes: Anthropology, Communications, Medicine, Law, Global Development and Global Health. As for the case competition itself, our team was not only interdisciplinary, but also international, with full degree UCPH students from Puerto Rico, Germany, India and of course Denmark. In a university environment where we all too often engage with peers in our specific disciplines, we found that it was an intellectually challenging and stimulating experience to work together towards the solution of a set of issues from very different perspectives. Our individual perspectives and academic backgrounds called for much self- and group-reflection, while debating and working on our intervention. First, working in an interdisciplinary and international team taught us a lot about ourselves and how to make our specific knowledge relevant in addressing a complex problem. Second, working on this case made it evident that global health is an interdisciplinary field itself, which combines, and requires, a wide variety of disciplines to address complex issues.

Solving real-life global health issues
The competition, which hosted its 7th edition this year and is deemed the largest and most enduring academic Global Health Case Competition in the United States, not only challenged us with a real-life issue but also evaluated us with a panel of high level researchers, academics and global health leaders as judges. They were not only of great inspiration because of their impressive backgrounds and experiences but also because of their candid feedback regarding our intervention and presentation. This was an invaluable opportunity to reflect and learn as a team, and as individuals, regarding the competencies that we have and that will apply in different ways throughout our professional careers.

Inspired global health action
The competition was so impactful that one of our team-members, Mark, has started the process of establishing a partnership with other medical students to raise awareness among local populations in India about the importance of mental health: “I hadn’t really considered the implications and severity of the lack of mental health infrastructure globally, but this case competition highlighted how urgently new interventions are needed”. Other graduate and post-graduate students that attended the competition also discussed starting projects of their own. 

An open invitation to all UCPH students
This was not just an invaluable learning experience for us; it was practical experience for our upcoming professional careers and an eye-opener on how much we can achieve if we combine collective work and weave together diverse backgrounds, interests and skills. We strongly recommend fellow students at the University of Copenhagen from all faculties to apply and seek this and similar opportunities to learn and to represent our university in addressing real-life global health challenges.

Fact Box

With two civil wars that ended less than 15 years ago and an Ebola epidemic that struck the country less than 2 years ago, mental health issues are prevalent in Liberia. With 42% of the population being under 15 years of age, the case challenge focused on raising awareness on mental health and reducing the stigma surrounding children’s mental illness. Globally, mental health conditions are on the rise, and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.

Christopher Richard Hansen, Anthropology 

                “I think working inter-disciplinarily is definitely the way to go in addressing many of the problems our world faces today. This case was a great example of that. With my background in Anthropology I hope to have contributed with an understanding that all the “cultural stuff” does not have to be only an obstacle that you have to work against but rather something you have to embrace and can actually work with.”

Sine Hjuler, Communications

                “My main contribution to our intervention was developing a suitable communication and campaign strategy. This case competition broadened my scope in terms of what kind of jobs my competences can contribute to. I never really considered working with global health but I most definitely do now that I know how important communication is for both funding and diffusion of knowledge on this field.”

Mark Khurana, Medicine

                “I’ve always had a keen interest in Global Health, but getting to solve real-life challenges allowed me to both demonstrate what I’ve already learned and realize what I’d love to learn more about in the future. As a medical student, it was invaluable thinking from a broader, more public-health viewpoint as opposed to a purely medical one.”

Regina Höllriegl, Global Development

                “The week in preparation for the case was a very intense experience. It was hard work but at the same time so much fun to share this experience with my team. Professionally it was very intriguing to simulate a situation where I was an expert in Monitoring & Evaluation. I realized how important my studies had been for a possible future career but also how core competencies can work across disciplines and what perspectives Global Health provide for me with my background.”

Diana Isabel Sotomayor, Global Health

                “This was an invaluable experience to apply and test all the skills and competencies that my master programme has provided me for the past year and a half in a challenging, thought-provoking and, fast-paced environment. The task was an excellent training for a real-life consultancy job and an absolute reassurance of the relevance, impact and ubiquity of global health.”

Amalie Paludan, Law

                ”I found the case competition to be a great experience in multidisciplinary teamwork, creating innovative solutions through the combined strengths of our various fields. I could use law methodologically throughout the process, and my background in business law made it natural for me to work possible business angles and create our budget.”