New Haven’s student-run HAVEN Free Clinic will tackle mental health through a series of workshops to train and educate physicians and patients.

Yale student Abigail Greene MED ’20 and psychiatry professor Michelle Silva are creating a series of workshops to promote constructive conversations between providers and patients regarding mental health. The workshops, called Health ACT, were funded by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation Helping Hands Grant.

“We’re hoping to reach people who may not be comfortable with mental health,” Silva said. “It’s challenging to fully overcome that over the course of three sessions, but we hope that we can introduce new ideas and create curiosity so that people can begin conversations.”

Many patients only interact with the health care system through their primary care provider, even if they are struggling with behavioral health issues, Greene said. Primary care providers offer approximately half of mental health care for common psychiatric conditions, she continued.

Oftentimes, Greene said, patients are unwilling to bring up mental health concerns during a primary care visit due to the stigma surrounding mental illness. On the flip side, primary care practitioners may not be asking the right questions, Silva said. The workshops will create a space for practitioners and patients to learn how to discuss mental health together, she added.

“We want to empower patients to have these conversations with their providers and equip providers with the tools they need to have effective conversations with their patients,” Greene said. To get a patient to open up, the best thing a provider can do is just to be curious about their life, Silva said.

The workshop will comprise three sessions, Greene said. Care providers and patients will go through the first two sessions separately before coming together for the third. The first session will consist of general information on understanding and coping with mental illnesses. The second session will put the focus on communication and integrating behavioral health into primary care visits. And in the third session, patients will interact with providers and tell them exactly what their needs and priorities are, Greene said.

HAVEN will collect survey responses after each session to evaluate the program’s efficacy, Greene said. If the results are positive, HAVEN plans to redesign the workshop curriculum for other free clinics to use.

“We hope that this can be a program that can be generalized and scaled up into a curriculum that can be packaged and disseminated to many different populations in many different settings,” she said.

Many of the patients at HAVEN Free Clinic are immigrants or refugees, populations that are traditionally underserved in the health care realm, Greene added.

HAVEN started its behavioral health program in 2012 in response to the high volume of patients coming to the clinic who had to be referred elsewhere for mental health care. Many times, the referred institutions were not a good fit for the patient, Greene said.

Greene and Silva are partnering with Junta for Progressive Action, a group that works with Latino immigrants, and IRIS, an organization that supports refugees, Silva said. Since many of clinic’s patients speak Spanish, the workshops will use translators.

The Helping Hands grant program gives up to $5,000 to a medical school to address mental health or substance abuse in underserved minority communities.

In February 2018, Greene will present the workshops at the Society for Student Run Free Clinics Conference.

HAVEN was founded in 2004 by a group of Yale health professional students to provide primary care services free of charge to the uninsured population living in New Haven, according to Kaitlin Erickson NUR ’19, the executive director. The clinic was centered at Fair Haven Community Health Center until January, when it relocated to the Yale Physicians building to maintain its status as a free clinic.

Maya Chandra |