Ebola Research Examines Mental Health Outcomes for Survivors


Satcher Health Leadership Institute (SHLI) Associate Project Director Gilberte “Gigi” Bastien is Africa-bound after being awarded a Fogarty Global Health Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health for a project examining the psychological aftermath of the 2014 Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis.

Starting this September, Bastien, Ph.D., will spend 11 months in Liberia researching the mental health consequences of the devastating West Africa EVD outbreak. Using written surveys, individual interviews and focus groups, Bastien plans to focus on survivors, relatives and caregivers of survivors, and the community at large.

“What I think is distinct about this project is the intentional effort to balance assessing mental health problems with understanding existing strength and resilience,” she said. “It’s important to better understand and appreciate the ways that people survive and even thrive in the aftermath of large-scale emergencies.”

Bastien, a clinical psychologist, will hone in on three things regarding the epidemic’s mental health and psychosocial consequences: existing mental distress, stigma, and resiliency among survivors and affected communities.

A native of Haiti, Bastien received her Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi. Her dissertation in part addressed mental health concerns following the 2010 earthquake in her home country.

“There are similarities between the earthquake in Haiti, the Ebola virus in Liberia and other large-scale emergencies,” Bastien said. “The better we understand the mental health consequences of these events, the better positioned we will be to address them proactively and early enough to have a meaningful impact.”

Liberia was ravaged by the EVD outbreak in addition to Sierra Leone and Guinea. Exacerbating the crisis was the country’s health system, rendered anemic by a 14-year civil conflict that ended in the early 2000s; and traditional burial practices that inadvertently spread the virus. According to Centers for Disease Control numbers, the 2014 outbreak claimed 11,310 lives, with 4,810 of those deaths occurring in Liberia.

The fellowship ties in with Bastien’s work with SHLI, where she leads its Global Health Committee and is transitioning to a new role as Associate Director of Global Health. “Within SHLI, there is increasing attention toward developing a global health agenda and the critical role this will play in advancing global health equity,” she said.

A primary emphasis of Bastien’s research and clinical work has been the intersection of culture and mental health/mental illness with special attention on diverse populations. Bastien’s resume includes a pre-doctoral internship with the Bay Pines VA Healthcare system, a postdoctoral psychology residency with the San Diego VA Healthcare System, followed by a postdoctoral health policy leadership fellowship with SHLI’s Division of Health Policy.

During her health policy fellowship, Bastien was a practicum fellow with the Carter Center. She will be close to the organization again in Liberia, this time collaborating with the Carter Center through its mental health office in the capital city of Monrovia.

“I hope this project will be an important contribution to the growing literature around resilience and post-traumatic growth,” she said.