Rationale of the Program
Mental illness and addictions are leading causes of disability worldwide, resulting in a massive burden on health care systems. These illnesses are caused by complex biological, psychological and social factors that interact at multiple levels (1, 2). The social determinants of health are recognized as important in mental illness and have been integrated into public health, epidemiology and sociology curriculums (1, 3, 5, 6, and 7). Selected topics of social determinants of mental illness and addiction are covered to a certain extent in social psychiatry and in psychiatric epidemiology. However, it is difficult for such courses to keep pace with changes and developments in the field. Sophisticated inter- and trans-disciplinary expertise has been required to integrate these factors causes (2) and equip researchers with the requisite skills and to encourage evidence-based illness prevention strategies and effective programs to deal with the social determinants of recovery.
There have been significant advances in both the theory and methods used in the investigation of the impact of social factors on mental illness and addictions (4). For instance, there are new approaches that help us to distinguish between individual and environmental impacts of risk factors, such as multi-level statistical modeling and conceptual improvements in ecological analyses (8, 9, and 10). The measurement and analysis of risk factors over a life course is now more sophisticated (1). Policy units increasingly request the use of geographical modeling to present data visually and advances in this technology and its use in aetiological research are moving quickly (12). New methodologies in community-based research and a deeper understanding of the philosophy and ethics of such research are also considered important parts of the knowledge base of researchers (13, 14 and 15). Globalization and ethno-cultural diversity has brought with it knowledge, skills and approaches to cross- and trans-cultural analysis (16, 17). Gender differences are also important social determinants and understanding gender-based analysis techniques is fundamental to understanding social processes. This is not an exhaustive list but it is clear that researchers require new skills to work in this changing environment and to collaborate effectively with diverse groups, including professionals from different medical specialties, city planners or community-based service delivery groups.
The Social Aetiology of Mental Illness training program (SAMI) aimed to create a new generation of experts through an initiative that focused on models of causation and the social determinants of mental illness and addictions. SAMI trained researchers from diverse fields including medicine, health sciences, social work, and social sciences. The SAMI training program included experts in policy, knowledge transfer, philosophy, ethics, education and eHealth and through the development of curricula and mentorship of trainees.
Objectives of the Program
- Develop an international group of mentors in the social aetiology of mental illness and addictions;
- Develop partnerships with centres of excellence in the investigation of the social aetiology of mental illness and addictions;
- Produce curricula that develops the attitudes, knowledge, skills and networks necessary for world class researchers in the social aetiology of mental illness and addictions and prevention;
- Harness information technology to develop and disseminate new curricula and approaches to teaching;
- Train postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers in the social determinants of mental illness and addictions;
- Develop international, web-based research groups for aspects of the social aetiology of mental illness and addictions;
- Become an internationally recognized centre for the study of the social aetiology of mental illness and addictions