Meet the first graduate of the Population Mental Health & Wellbeing ProgramDec 30, 2020
You are the first Colorado School of Public Health graduate with an MPH concentration in Population Mental Health and Wellbeing. However, you have several areas of focus. Can you tell us more about those and how they integrate with each other?
Aside from the MPH concentrating in PMHW, I completed CSPH certificates in Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response (PHPDR) and Global Health. My career interests lie under the general umbrella of Disaster Behavioral Health, especially in international humanitarian contexts, so I felt this combination of specializations would help give me the knowledge and expertise I needed.
What made you decide to join the PMHW program?
Very long story short, I completed my undergrad in psychology, and while I loved the subject, I couldn’t see myself becoming a therapist. I started looking into other ways to integrate mental health into my career and became increasingly interested in working with those that have endured different types of trauma, especially in humanitarian crisis contexts, which led me to consider Disaster Behavioral Health. I originally ended up at CSPH by applying for the PHPDR certificate program to determine if public health was a good fit and to explore related career options, including those in international disaster psychology. After a lot of time, guidance, mentoring and self-reflection, I decided this field was exactly what I wanted to pursue and applied for the full MPH. The PMHW program is one of the very few in the country that I thought could help me achieve my specific career goals, especially when I added the two certificates offered by the same university.
What was the most beneficial PMHW course that you took during your tenure at CSPH and what set it apart from the others?
I would have to say Population Mental Health and Wellbeing was the most beneficial for me personally, mostly because I already had a background in mental health but needed to expand my knowledge of how to apply those principles or interventions at a population level.
How do you plan to apply your education to your work post-graduation?
I am looking at gaining experience in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support programming in disaster contexts and have a specific interest in gender-based violence and child protection. The ultimate goal is still to work internationally, so we will see how the next few months go in terms of the pandemic and travel. In the meantime, I plan to gain as much practical experience as possible engaging in projects related to disaster behavioral health M&E, program planning and applying different intervention frameworks in humanitarian and/or domestic contexts.
Do you have any words of advice for current or future students in PMHW?
Take initiative, don’t wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. Network, utilize all your resources, and take advantage of every opportunity you can while you are still a student. For current students, or future students who will be entering this program during the pandemic: while this is a uniquely difficult time, it is also one that could provide you with unique educational and professional opportunities in public health. Try and find the silver linings and use this to your advantage in whatever ways suit your program and career goals. Population mental health is at the forefront of people’s minds right now, so don’t lose that momentum!
Tell us about your practicum experience.
I completed my practicum at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment working on a project researching the availability and granularity of current behavioral health datasets, evaluating gaps, identifying ways to address them, and creating a proof-of-concept plan for an improved disaster behavioral health surveillance and data monitoring system for the state.
Tell us about your capstone project.
The PMHW team was kind enough to let me in one of their research projects, Population Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic, a longitudinal online survey examining population mental health change over time with US adults. For my capstone, I looked specifically at how variables like perceived severity and susceptibility of COVID, perceived benefit of social distancing recommendations, and COVID-specific anxiety predict social distancing compliance in the US.