Sita G. Patel, PhD, Awarded World Health Organization Global Mental Health Fellowship

November 23, 2021
Sita Patel
Palo Alto University is proud to announce that Sita G. Patel, an associate professor of clinical psychology, has been awarded the prestigious APA-IUPSYS Global Mental Health Fellowship. The fellowship provides a one-year opportunity “for a psychologist to contribute to the work of World Health Organization (WHO) in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD).” The fellowship is sponsored by the American Psychological Association and the International Union of Psychological Science.
“I am thrilled!” said Dr. Patel, who also leads PAU’s Culture, Community, and Global Mental Health Research Lab. “For over 15 years, I have been engaged in community-based research to reduce mental health disparities, particularly among immigrants and refugees. Although this work has been primarily local, it also connected me to the many systemic issues that motivate migration - issues like war, persecution, and poverty.”
Her work with the World Health Organization will focus on mental health services in conflict and humanitarian emergency settings, as well as suicide prevention. Her workplan for the next year includes three projects:
  • A global evidence review on mental health and migration
  • Addressing suicide and self-harm in humanitarian settings
  • Development and finalization of the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Minimum Service Package 
PAU President Maureen O’Connor says Dr. Patel “shows deep connections between her research, teaching and mentoring, service, and, most importantly for this Fellowship, her sophisticated and nuanced understanding of cultural competency, cultural humility and openness in working with those from myriad backgrounds.”
When Dr. Patel was in graduate school, she worked for a summer in South Africa, which she says, “profoundly expanded my perspective on the profession of psychology, and the nature of mental health disparities worldwide.” She became interested in policy and, especially, gaps between policy and practice in low- and middle-income countries, where mental health infrastructure is limited.
“I remember interviewing a mother who lived in one of the largest slums in the world, Khayelitcha, in Cape Town. Her child, whose mobility was restricted to a wheelchair, was unable to attend school because the doorways were not wide enough. Although there were clear educational policies in place in 2005 post-Apartheid South Africa, the implementation and oversight were not there.”
Dr. Patel found it rewarding to work in communities that needed help identifying issues and then producing scholarship that would have a practical impact. “Since then,” she said, “I have been able to work on implementing and evaluating trauma-related programs in various low-resource/ high-conflict settings.”  
Her scholarship is not purely academic or practical, though, but also personal. “My relatives were forced migrants during various times of political unrest in East Africa, so I have a longstanding desire to help migrants and asylum-seekers successfully adapt to their new circumstances,” Dr. Patel said. 
“This wonderful combination of community and clinical perspective, allowing her to examine trauma intrapersonally and contextually,” President O’Connor said, “is what will ultimately allow us to make progress in understanding trauma’s deep tentacles in so many facets of people’s lives and develop scalable psychological interventions.”
Working with the World Health Organization will help Dr. Patel do just that: “to learn more about how to disseminate best practices and creative ideas for reducing mental health disparities in locations with minimal healthcare resources - such as humanitarian emergency settings and refugee camps.”