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GMH Newsletter Featured Topics – November 2021

Dr. Jennifer Velloza is studying effective interventions to improve mental health and PrEP adherence and mental health among adolescent girls and young women in areas with a high HIV burden.

We asked Dr. Velloza three key questions to learn more about her project and the potential that she sees it having on the health of adolescent girls and young women in South Africa

Please give our readers us a summary of your project.

In previous studies with adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) at risk of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 – 50% have reported symptoms of common mental disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress) which are associated with suboptimal adherence to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a highly effective HIV prevention approach. In this NIMH-funded K99/R00 project, we seek to address poor PrEP adherence and depression among AGYW at risk of HIV by adapting, testing, and optimizing an evidence-based mental health intervention (the “Friendship Bench”) for South African PrEP delivery settings.

The project started in January 2021 when we began with stakeholder engagement and qualitative interviews with AGYW, clinic staff, and key informants involved in mental health and PrEP policy making.  Our goal was to identify needs around mental health intervention content and implementation barriers in PrEP clinics in Johannesburg.  This study will provide important insights on approaches for integrating mental health interventions in PrEP delivery. Our work is well-aligned with South African Department of Health priorities for integrated HIV and mental health care.

What is the current status of the project?

We have completed 45 in-depth interviews and are currently planning a series of interactive workshops with adolescent girls and young women, clinic staff, and key informants.  These workshops will help us to design and pilot our adapted Friendship Bench intervention content and implementation strategies for delivery in PrEP clinics. We expect the workshops to be completed by March 2022, and will spend the subsequent three years of this study testing the effectiveness and implementation of our adapted Friendship Bench intervention on mental health and PrEP delivery for adolescent girls and young women in Johannesburg (using a hybrid effectiveness-implementation trial design).

What do you see as the possible longer-term impacts of your work?

The optimized intervention has the potential to improve both PrEP adherence and mental health outcomes for AGYW in South Africa and other high burden settings.  Findings will also lay the groundwork for an R01 proposal to test the impact of our adapted intervention package at scale.

Learn more about the development of the Friendship Bench and it’s successful use in addressing common mental health disorders in Zimbabwe.

Local and Global Mental Health Updates

The December Global Mental Health Journal Club will feature PhD student Shanice Owens leading a discussion around rethinking research on the social determinants of global mental health.

Date/Time: Thursday, December 2nd / 3-4pm PDT
Meeting Link:
Meeting ID: 965 9252 2762
Telephone: +1 206 337 9723

The BRiTE Center is hosting a special guest presentation by Dr. Sabine Wilhelm, Professor at Harvard medical School, Chief of Psychology, and Director of the Center for OCD and Related Disorders (CORD) at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is also the Chair of the Digital Health Think Tank in Psychiatry at MGH.

Leveraging Technology to Enhance Mental Health Care

Mental illness is extremely common, associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality as well as high health care costs. However, most individuals with mental illness do not receive any care at all, and if they do, treatment is often inadequate. Fortunately, recent advances in technology offer new tools to reduce the risk for psychiatric disease and increase well-being for our patients. In this presentation, Dr. Wilhelm will discuss ways in which new technologies can be used to assess and treat psychological problems, and the empirical research support for these technologies. One of the exciting features of the emerging advances in digital mental health care are the benefits of strong interdisciplinary collaborations that connect technology experts with researchers, clinicians and patients.

BRiTE Center Presentation Zoom Details
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 8th / 12pm PDT
Meeting Link: Meeting ID: 959 428 4659

UNICEF hosted Adolescent Mental Health: Insights from UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report in November.The State of the World’s Children 2021 examines child, adolescent and caregiver mental health. It focuses on risks and protective factors at critical moments in the life course and delves into the social determinants that shape mental health and well-being. The report calls for commitment, communication and action as part of a comprehensive approach to promote good mental health for every child, protect vulnerable children and care for children facing the greatest challenges. With this edition of The State of the World’s Children, the first ever to focus on mental health, UNICEF hopes to signal their determination to listen – and to act. Watch the full webinar here.

The Wellcome Trust has released a summary of what they have learned about the evidence for “active ingredients” of effective interventions for youth anxiety and depression.  Key insights from the report include:

    • There is evidence to support many of the active ingredients reviews.  But there does not appear to be emergence of clear frontrunners; instead, many small ingredients have small effects
    • There are considerable limitations in the existing evidence base.  The vast majority of existing work has taken place in high-income countries, and it is unclear how applicable the findings are to low- and middle-income contexts

Global Mental Health Funding Opportunities 

The National Institute of Mental Health intends to publish a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to solicit applications to develop, optimize, and test innovative theory-based strategies to integrate mental and physical health care within health care systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This Notice is being provided to allow potential applicants sufficient time to develop meaningful collaborations and responsive projects. The FOA is expected to be published in Winter 2021 with an expected application due date in Spring 2022. This FOA will utilize the R01 activity code. Clinical trials will be optional.  Learn More.

Are you looking to improve the impact of evidence-based practices (EBP) for youth receiving mental healthcare in low or under-resourced settings?  Consider responding to this Call for Applications and make an IMPACT!   For any questions about this RFA, please contact Michelle Chan at

If you are a faculty member or fellow at University of Washington, you still have time to apply for a Community-Partnered AIDS Research Center (C-PARC) pilot award! Through this request for applications, UW BIRCH seeks to stimulate interdisciplinary research focused on the mental health of groups vulnerable to HIV infection or living with HIV. Apply before the December 1 deadline. Learn more.