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Lunch With... CAMH Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Cohen

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The company:
Dr. Steven Cohen is a psychiatrist at CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) in Toronto. He has also worked with Doctors without Borders in both Chad and Sudan. He also went to Ethiopia where he was working with TAAPP.

The lunch lesson:
I think the lesson from today's lunch wasn't exactly something specific but more that it is really refreshing to speak to someone who has dedicated their lives to helping others and who is pretty selfless. I get very upset about the way women are treated in many countries around the world but I still don't go out and change things on the ground like Steven does. It's very admirable and makes me want to commit to trying harder to make a difference.

The lunch conversation:
I was very excited for this lunch. I am a long time donor to Doctors without Borders, it's one of my favourite charities and I think they do amazing work. But the work that Steven does in Toronto is pretty fascinating as well. He is a staff psychiatrist in the Law and Mental Health Program at CAMH. The focus of his work is forensic psychiatry.

What this means is that he works with people with mental illnesses that are in the criminal system, like Dr. Elizabeth Olivet from Law & Order (in case you can't place that reference, neither could Steven but I'm pretty sure it's similar). The day before our lunch, he spent the day at Penetanguishene Prison, checking out the facility and meeting with prisoners.

Before moving to Toronto and very soon after graduating, Steven applied to Doctors without Borders and was soon off to Chad for six months. Steven was the Mental Health Officer for the Farchana Project, providing services on the eastern border of Chad. You should definitely check out his blog from his time there. Shortly after returning, he went to Sudan for two months working in the refugee camps.

In his work with TAAPP (a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University Departments of Psychiatry), he went to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, to train doctors there to be psychiatrists in order to help people with mental illnesses that are currently not getting the care they need. The goal of TAAPP is to "produce a workable, effective model for accelerating the creation of medical specialists in Ethiopia."

A WHO study from 2006 quoted on the TAAPP website found that "while the African continent bears 24 per cent of the global burden of disease it has only three per cent of the world's health workforce and less than one per cent of the world's financial resources for health."

This emphasizes why organizations like Doctors without Borders are so necessary but also shows that the training work that Steven did that is pushing Ethiopia towards becoming self-sustainable when it comes to mental health care is an important long term goal.

I have seen in the news that foreign aid workers have been targeted by kidnappers in Sudan. I asked Steven if he was scared and he said that he knew it was a risk but he was okay. He then asked me if I have ever considered doing this type of international work. First I said that I wasn't a doctor. He then explained to me that there are other jobs with Doctors without Borders that deal with the logistics. Then I told him I was too chicken. I am not proud of it but I honestly think I am too afraid to travel to places where foreign aid workers are the target of kidnappings. That is why I have so much admiration for the people that do it.

Steven told me that his mom didn't talk to him for three days after he told her he was going to Sudan just after returning safely from Chad. My mom would do the same I am sure.

It was a great lunch. As soon as I left, I realized that I barely scratched the surface of all that I wanted to learn. But I am grateful for the conversation we had and I look forward to hearing about where Steven goes next.