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First-year PhD student Megan Ramaiya works toward the development of culturally adapted suicide prevention interventions in Nepal

Megan Ramaiya is one of many Psychology graduate students conducting and implementing life-changing research across the globe. Megan's research interests broadly span the intersections between Global Mental Health and Clinical Psychology, and center around culturally adapted behavioral interventions in low- and middle-income settings. For the past four years, she's worked in urban and rural Nepal to adapt and test components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, an intervention for suicidal clients with complex diagnoses, across a range of populations. 

Megan was one of a select number of students across the university to receive a travel fellowship from the Department of Global Health this year. With this fellowship, she’ll travel once more to Nepal later this year to advance her project, “Development of a Culturally Adapted Suicide Prevention Intervention”. Read on to learn more about the impact she’s having on underserved populations around the world.

 

How did you get started in the field of Clinical Psychology? Why are you passionate about the work you do?

I came to Clinical Psychology by way of my interest in Global Mental Health. Before coming to UW, I studied Global Health as a Master’s student at Duke, where I was lucky enough to receive the mentorship and research training I needed to apply to PhD programs. Right now, most of my work is based on adapting emotion regulation interventions for different Nepali populations (both clinical and non-clinical), and evaluating them using small, mixed-methods trials. My deeper interest, though, is in understanding cross-cultural differences in how minority populations with more acute psychopathology make sense of, manage, and communicate their own emotions. I love doing international work because it constantly challenges my own perspective on the world and what I know or believe to be true in some way. I also enjoy my work because I just love being in Nepal: my friends and colleagues there are some of the kindest and most generous people I know, and my time there has been a real source of joy and connection. 

What is the most noteworthy thing you’ve learned in Nepal?

Probably two things: the first being that context is king. it seems like, during the research process abroad, there’s invariably some important level of nuance that I’ve overlooked (e.g., a new logistical barrier, cultural expressions of distress that differ based on the sub-population, novel stigma considerations). Working closely with Nepali colleagues and participants to answer the question “what's missing?” helps me become aware of these contextual factors faster and earlier on in a project. The second is that, in global mental health settings, the best research seems to often be the most pragmatic research: if you've designed an elegant study with lots of internal validity but can’t implement it in the current environment, why bother?

What kind of difference in the world do you envision making with your work?

Research on the cultural adaptation of interventions for low-resource settings is growing, and yet we still have a lot to learn regarding when, how, and if treatments should be adapted in international contexts. I hope to be able to contribute to these efforts by helping develop empirically-supported frameworks for more rigorously accounting for cultural processes in intervention design. My long-term goal is to leverage these frameworks to develop brief, scalable emotion regulation interventions for underserved minorities with acute mental illness.