SMART Africa Center Focuses on Children’s Mental Health

Faculty; Public Health; Research

​Led by Mary McKay, Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School, and new Brown School Professor, Fred Ssewamala, the NIMH-funded SMART Africa Center (Strengthening Mental Health and Research Training) is a transdisciplinary research center aimed at reducing child mental health service and research gaps in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. Now based at the Brown School, the Center brings together a consortium of academic, government, NGO and community stakeholders in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and the United States.

Context-specific influences within African nations—such as high levels of stigma associated with mental health, skepticism of professionalized responses to mental health challenges, high rates of poverty, and health epidemics including HIV/AIDS—increase the prevalence of serious mental health needs, said McKay.

These challenges, coupled with mental health policies being at their early stages of implementation, impede the capacity to provide adequate services in these countries. Children in Sub-Saharan Africa comprise half of the regional population, yet mental health services are severely under-equipped to meet their needs.  Attempts to scale up evidence-based practices have rarely been undertaken.

In July 2017, SMART Africa launched its first annual Sub-Saharan African Child Behavioral Health Conference in Kampala, Uganda. This widely-attended conference brought together academics, researchers, policy makers, programmers, NGO leaders, students, early career professionals and community members to create service models to better serve the youth population.  Continuing the momentum is a 2017 summer conference in Uganda.