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Pamela Surkan

Johns Hopkins University
A study of the mental health care needs of Arabic speaking refugees in France and pilot assessment of PM+
01 September 2021 -
30 June 2022

Pamela Surkan is a social epidemiologist and professor in the Social and Behavioral Intervention Program (SBI) within the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH). At JHSPH, she holds joint appointments in the Departments of Mental Health and Health, Behavior and Society. She also serves as the PhD Program Coordinator for doctoral students within SBI. Her research focuses on social determinants of health both domestically and globally. Dr. Surkan is committed to eliminating health disparities and to the development and adaptation of public health interventions with the aim of closing these gaps. One of her other main areas of interest includes intergenerational research, for example, how caregiver mental health and social conditions influence child development. In work with her doctoral students, populations she has studied include Eritrean, North Korean and Somali migrants and refugees. She serves as the ‘Psychological Health’ section editor for the Maternal and Child Health Journal and is on the scientific advisory board for the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Through her work she hopes to foster the exchange of ideas across disciplines to develop policies and programs to promote health and well-being.

Research interests

Mental health, Refugee health, Intervention development, Health disparities, Qualitative methods

A study of the mental health care needs of Arabic speaking refugees in France and pilot assessment of PM+

Mental health resources for migrant populations in France remain insufficient and the management of mental health problems for refugees continues to be a challenge. The WHO Problem Management Plus (PM+) program is a promising low-intensity psychosocial intervention for adults affected by psychological distress. Given the considerable mental health needs and gaps in services for these populations, the goals of this research are: on the one hand to study the mental health needs of Arabic-speaking refugees and the barriers and facilitators to access to care they experience in France; and on the other hand, to assess the WHO PM+ intervention protocol for Arabic-speaking refugees in the French context. Data to be collected will include in-depth interviews with Arabic-speaking refugees and key informants that will be used to understand refugees’ experiences with mental health problems and care and to evaluate the implementation of a pilot PM+ psychosocial intervention. The intervention itself will be pilot tested with refugees. Thematic coding will be used to understand facilitators and barriers to accessing mental health care, acceptability of the PM+ intervention protocol and to identify barriers and factors facilitating the implementation of PM+ in order to modify/adapt the protocol. Care practices for refugees in France, who are at high risk of psychological distress, can be improved through a better understanding of their needs and by tailoring the PM+ protocol and delivery for this population.

Key publications

Surkan Pamela, Hamdani SU., Huma Z. et al., “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based intervention to treat symptoms of anxiety in pregnancy in a prenatal clinic using non-specialist providers in Pakistan: design of a randomized trial”, in BMJ Open, vol 10, n°4, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-037590

Surkan Pamela, Kim J., Cha J. et al., “Human rights as political determinants of mental health: a retrospective study of North Korean refugees”, in American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol 55, n°2, 2018, p.271-279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.04.006

Surkan Pamela, Gebreyesus T., Sultan Z. et al., “Violence en route: Eritrean women asylum seekers experiences of sexual violence while migrating to Israel”, in Healthcare for Women International, vol 40, n°7-9, 2019, pp. 721-743. https://doi.org/10.1080/07399332.2019.1566336

Contemporary period (1789-…)
Western Europe