Photo courtesy University of Macau
Dr. Brian Hall, a clinical psychologist and epidemiologist, was determined to conduct global mental health research in Asia - where there aren't many scientists in the field and he felt his work could have an impact.
During the year he spent in Guangzhou, China, as a Fogarty Fellow, Hall examined the
social and health challenges facing African migrants, and in the process sharpened his qualitative research skills and his ability to get stakeholders to agree to a project. At the end of his fellowship, Hall accepted an assistant professorship at the University of Macau and began building a multidisciplinary global health research group, one of the few in Asia with a mental health focus. In his work at the university in southern China, Hall has embraced the challenge of helping a relatively young institution build its research infrastructure.
"Mental health is a really critical area for all of us in global health to be thinking about," Hall explained. "If you have mental health comorbidities, you're less likely to take medications on time or adhere to different regimens that could be applied to infectious diseases like HIV or noncommunicable diseases like diabetes."
Drawing on his Fogarty experience, as well as psychiatric epidemiology training at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, supported by NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Hall began developing the research program. He secured outside funding for projects, something he described as novel to the university, and now has a team of over 20 people that includes undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers, staff and faculty collaborators.
Hall involves undergraduates in the program to give them new experiences and guidance to help them shape the trajectory of their post-graduate training. As a dedicated mentor, he’s been able to place all of his students who aspired to advanced training at top-ranked regional or international institutions.
"I'm focused on developing the capacity of future leaders in global health," Hall said. "I want to instill in my trainees the passion for making a real impact on the health of populations."
The program's projects employ a variety of methods to examine the mental, physical, sexual and social aspects of health to support evidence-based interventions. The research echoes some of Hall's past efforts and explores new areas such as eMental Health - work he is conducting with the World Health Organization as part of a fellowship funded by two psychological associations.
Hall is using his experience as a Fogarty Fellow in mental health research to help another marginalized community. He's collaborating with NGOs on co-funded projects to develop strategies and programs for migrant domestic workers in Macau. Hall’s research group conducted the first epidemiological study of depression in the region as part of a larger initiative to assess mental health needs. The study found local Chinese in Macau are twice as likely to become depressed as those on the mainland and in neighboring Hong Kong, which, like Macau, is one of China’s special administrative regions.
"Fogarty is the bridge to global health. It got me out into the world, into Asia," Hall reflected, noting he still benefits from the relationships that he formed during his fellowship. He was part of a working group that included his advisors, Dr. Joseph Tucker, a former Fogarty Fellow who heads a University of North Carolina (UNC) research program in China, Dr. Carl Latkin of Johns Hopkins and Dr. Li Ling of Sun Yat-sen University, as well another Fogarty Fellow, Dr. Wen Chen.
"I'm excited about what the future holds," Hall said. "I think Fogarty really helped galvanize my spirit in how things can get done and to focus on the end goal and remain determined until you reach it."
Fogarty's Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars provides a yearlong mentored clinical research experience abroad for postdoctoral fellows and pre-doctoral scholars.