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Addressing the Mental Health Crisis

Published on 23 July 2019

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 50% of the United States population will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life. To address this national health crisis, St. Louis College of Pharmacy is working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“We want our faculty and staff to be cognizant and aware of the mental and emotional needs of our students,” said Alechia Abioye, Ed.D., assistant director for diversity and inclusion. “It is important for us to display empathy to our peers and students so we can better support them in their own self-awareness and encourage them to practice empathy toward patients.”

Through its Office of Diversity and Inclusion and as a partner institution of the Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education at Washington University Medical Campus (WUMC), the College is embracing artistic programming as an effective tool to educate health care providers and professionals on topics related to bias and the importance of empathy at work, at home and in health care settings.

“Theater allows people to theoretically step into another person’s shoes,” Abioye added. “Throughout history, we have seen performance arts broach difficult topics in order to connect different viewpoints.”

Throughout the spring 2019 semester, the Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education hosted That Uppity Theatre Company to create and perform a one-of-a-kind theater piece focused on disabilities.

Through brown bag lunch discussions and directed conversations facilitated by Joan Appell Lipkin, director of the company, participants explored the invisible disabilities most prevalent in the WUMC.

“People spoke frankly and sometimes emotionally about their experiences or those of their students and colleagues,” Lipkin said. “The issues were predominantly about less visible disabilities, including hearing loss, learning disabilities, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depressive disorders, so those became our focus.”

Inspired by the conversations that took place and utilizing the stories shared by participants, Lipkin and the company’s performers created a theater piece specifically for the medical campus.

Using thoughtfully crafted song lyrics and physical movement, the performance focused on addressing microaggressions, trigger words and inappropriate jokes. Lipkin also provided information in between some of the pieces to give context, statistical background and prompt questions or self-inquiry.

“Health care leaders need as much education and support as possible to do their best work, especially since invisible disabilities are among the most complex health concern,” Lipkin explained. “Additional education, as exemplified through performance, can help people think more consciously about what they say and do.”

Last year, through a similar partnership between the Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education and the College’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Lipkin presented a piece for the WUMC community that addressed LGBTQIA+ bias by sharing a story about a lesbian who was afraid to seek medical attention following a possible diagnosis of breast cancer.

“The College, and the Washington University Medical Campus as a whole, recognize the role that art can play in education,” Lipkin added. “I hope attendees reflect on their own experiences and behavior, and possibly make changes in the future.”

The College is committed to encouraging important conversations about race, sexual orientation and mental illness across the medical campus. These learning experiences improve patient care and also can be used to build a more inclusive and understanding health care culture.

“We are focused on empathy in patient care, but it’s also important to show empathy to our colleagues and students,” Abioye said. “Sometimes the impact of our words is stronger than the intent.”

In addition to its role as a partner institution in the Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education, the College’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion sponsors a wide variety of programming throughout the year for students, faculty and staff.

To learn more about the College’s upcoming events, visit stlcop.edu/events.

The Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education at Washington University Medical Campus is a collaboration between Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Learn more about the center at cipewumc.org.

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