An Alumna Contributes Mental Health Expertise to Policy Symposium in Zambia

October 27, 2015 @ 10:19 pm

In March of this year the Columbia School of Social Work hosted Zambian Vice-President Inonge Wina for a public lecture about the range of challenging social issues her country faces.

In attendance at that event was Dr. Langdon Holloway (MSW’73), who was about to make her own trip to Zambia on a social work-related mission. She and a fellow social work colleague, also an academic, had been invited to Livingstone, a city in southwestern Zambia near the Victoria Falls, to present information on church-based mental health programs in the United States.

Dr. Holloway has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her experience from CSSW’s Communications Office.

Hi, Dr. Holloway, and thanks for agreeing to spend some time on the CSSW site talking about social work and Zambia, a topic many of us learned about when Vice-President Wina visited our School last March. First, what was the specific reason for your trip to Zambia?
I was invited, along with Dr. Sheridan Quarless Kingsberry of Delaware State University School of Social Work, to present a paper at the 2015 Consortium for International Management, Policy and Development (CIMPAD) conference, which took place June 22–25 in Livingstone. The topic of our paper was church-based mental health programs that have been initiated by African American churches in the United States. My colleague and I opened the discussion with a literature review of community-based mental health programs that have been cosponsored by African American churches in the United States. Our research found that increased communication and trust were needed between mental health professionals and members of the ministry. Further, there is a need for greater study of evidence-based outcomes in church-sponsored mental health services.

What is the state of mental health services in Zambia at present?
Zambia is a poor country with one centralized psychiatric hospital staffed by just two psychiatrists. Health services are delivered by regional clinical officers, who have limited training in any specialty. An ongoing debate is whether government resources should be devoted to advancing mental health training. The Zambia Mental Health Profile (2013) reports there are .04 social workers per 10,000 people.

Under those conditions, how can the mentally ill get treatment?
In a resource-deprived environment, self-help programs and advocacy for the mentally ill are the first priorities. In our own country, for instance, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) got started in the late 1970s by offering self-help groups that were modeled on what Alcoholics Anonymous was doing. In Zambia’s case, support for psychiatric rehabilitation, orclubhouse models, may be a feasible intervention. On the level of social change, it’s worth noting that in Zambia, not dissimilar from other African countries, the human rights of the mentally ill were last addressed in the Mental Disorders Act of 1951—which fails to provide protection for the mentally ill and hence reinforces stigma.* The nation’s mental health advocates must continue their campaign for reform of this outdated mental health law and for adoption of the human rights framework set out by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007), which aims to eliminate discrimination against persons with a mental illness.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about your experience in Zambia?
I had the pleasure of meeting Vice President Wina for a second time. She spoke to the female conference participants about the need for educating girls and in the course of those remarks mentioned having spoken at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. On a humorous note: several U.S. public administration officials asked my husband if he was the presenter. I guess all of us, social workers or not, American or Zambian, have a lot of work ahead!

Thank you, Dr. Holloway. Your answers were very illuminating and I’m sure will serve as an inspiration to other alumni as well as students who are planning to pursue social work careers internationally.

* See Karban, K., Bowa, A., Mbewe, E., Ngandu, R., Patrick, S., Penson, B. & Walker, B. (2013) Scaling up mental health services in Zambia – challenges and opportunities reported in an education project. International Journal of Mental Health, 42 (2-3): 60-72.

Langdon Holloway earned her MSW from Columbia in 1973. She worked for many years as the director of partial care and substance abuse services at the Clinic for Mental Health in Paterson, New Jersey, during which she served as practicum supervisor to many CSSW students—“an opportunity I would not have missed for the world,” she says. She returned to academe a few years ago, earning a Ph.D. in social work from Rutgers in 2007, out of a desire to bring evidence-based practice to the substance abuse field. She has been an adjunct professor at the social work schools of Rutgers, West Chester, and Fordham Universities. Now retired, she conducts workshops on clinical supervision and ethics in supervision.

Photo credit: Dr. Langdon Holloway (CSSW’73) and Dr. Sheridan Q. Kingsberry (supplied).

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