Vikram Patel, PhD, a physician and anthropologist, is an internationally renowned researcher and innovator in global mental health. He has pioneered scholarship documenting the multiple burdens of mental illness, conducting cross-cultural studies of mental illness and caregiving by creating sustained interventions to alleviate these burdens in India, other South Asian countries, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere. He has examined the burden of mental disorders and suicide in young people; the association of poverty and gender-based violence with depression and suicide; he has made signal contributions to adolescent health, AIDS and maternal and child health. His intervention research seeks to integrate mental health care with treatment for other chronic diseases, develop scalable psychological treatments for delivery by community based workers, and on using m-health innovations in improving access to and quality of care. These investigations inform the design of health-care interventions and have increased effectiveness of health services globally.
Dr. Patel pursues this work through peer-reviewed scientific research, community-based collaborations, engagement of policy makers from the local to the international levels, and as a teacher who fosters scholarly careers in global mental health. He thereby embodies the vision of the Pershing Square Professorship, which The Pershing Square Foundation endowed to support integrating research with teaching to improve global health delivery, impact the lives and health of poor people around the world, and inspire students and future scholars who will take up this cause as their life’s work.
Dr. Patel has advanced the cause of global mental health partly by founding or co-founding programs such as the Centre for Global Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; the Centre for the Control of Chronic Conditions at the Public Health Foundation of India; the Movement for Global Mental Health, which invites public participation and resulted from a call for action published in the first Lancet series on global mental health, which he edited; and Sangath, a mental-health research NGO in Goa, India. Sangath links health-care services with research in a multidisciplinary model and engages local people and multiple sectors in providing and developing health care interventions. Like Partners In Health clinical sites, Sangath promises to become a location for Harvard students and fellows to pursue training in global health research. Dr. Patel’s ties to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and key Indian institutions also offer the promise of important new academic collaborations.
Dr. Patel’s contributions also extend to the education of lay people. His mental health care manual, Where There is No Psychiatrist, has been translated into Hindi, Khmer, Malay, Bahasa, Arabic, Tamil, Bengali, and other languages. At a TED Global conference he spoke on “Mental health for all by involving all.” He is recognized by his peers as “a game changer;” TIME magazine also named Dr. Patel one of the 100 most influential people of 2015. Although his honors are too numerous to count here, his most recent one includes the bestowal of an honorary Order of the British Empire—an honor conferred by the United Kingdom, where Dr. Patel is, as in India, regarded as this era’s most significant researcher and implementer of programs to lessen suffering.
As the Pershing Square Professor, Dr. Patel will play a vital role in delivering on the promise of the human right to health—efficiently, equitably, and in a manner that strengthens the commitment and capacity of all who would do this work to alleviate human suffering. His leadership, innovative research, health-care interventions, and commitments to teaching and to mental health for all are inspiring. We are delighted to welcome him as a colleague and partner for global health.