Brown School Offers New Specialization in Mental and Behavioral Health

Faculty; Public Health

Mental health issues are a leading cause of disability around the world and are increasingly recognized as a significant public health problem. With a new Mental and Behavioral Health specialization  within its Master of Public Health Program, the Brown School is poised to offer training to students who can make a broad difference in the public-health arena to complement traditional clinical care.

“There’s a growing recognition that we can impact mental and behavioral health at the population level through traditional public health activities like surveillance, prevention programs and policy,” said Associate Professor Alexis Duncan, who is chairing the new specialization.

“As a public health program embedded in a school of social work, the Brown School’s MPH program is uniquely positioned to equip students to view and promote mental and behavioral health through a transdisciplinary lens,” she noted.

Two new courses will be among the requirements for the specialization, which will be open to all Brown School students beginning in the fall of 2020: 

  • Fundamentals of Mental Health for Public Health, an overview of diagnosis, treatment and issues in the field.
  • Public Mental Health, a survey of mental and behavioral health from the perspectives of the foundational areas of public health: epidemiology, environmental health, health behavior, and health policy.

The specialization also will offer elective courses in both Transdisciplinary Problem Solving and traditional formats, as well as practica focused on mental and behavioral health. Graduates will be well prepared for careers involving program and policy development and evaluation related to mental and behavioral health, as well as research.

“This specialization is an excellent opportunity to tap into the wealth of expertise across the Brown School faculty,” said Lora Iannotti, associate professor and associate dean for public health. “We anticipate great interest among applicants and incoming students who are now considerably more aware of mental health as a public health issue.”

Duncan agreed that she has seen increased interest in mental and behavioral health from public health students, but only a few other MPH programs in the U.S. offer a focus on mental health.

“Just like with physical illnesses, we can and should develop public health programs to decrease the likelihood of developing mental and behavioral health problems, screen individuals for unrecognized mental illness, increase access to care, and minimize negative outcomes related to mental illness for individuals, families and communities,” she said.

Duncan noted that the specialization will address the additional complexities involved when using public health methods to combat mental illness. These include lack of funding for research and treatment, stigma, and difficulties in clear measurement and diagnosis, as well as health disparities in the availability of and access to mental health services related to factors such as age, income, race and location.

A psychiatric epidemiologist with training in behavior genetics, Duncan’s research focuses on exploring the interplay between individual, family, and social risk factors in the development of psychopathology, particularly among women.

Additional faculty for the specialization include Associate Professors Patrick Fowler and Jean-Francois Trani. Fowler is trained in child clinical-community psychology and leads research that aims to prevent homelessness and its mental and behavioral health effects. Trani investigates the intersection of disability, including mental illness, and poverty with a focus on informing policy and services for people living in conflict-affected states around the world. The specialization leaders will coordinate activities with the Brown School’s Center for Mental Health Services Research (CMHSR).

Learn more about the specialization.