Dr Anusha Lachman, Head of the Clinical Unit of Child Psychiatry at Tygerberg Hospital and senior lecturer in psychiatry at Stellenbosch University (SU), recently received the renowned King's College London Erasmus+ grant. In 2017, she was also the recipient of the Bongani Mayosi Scholarship for her Afrocentric research in infant mental health.
After receiving the King's College London (KCL)Erasmus+ grant, Lachman completed a three-month exchange in the United Kingdom (UK) this year. We sat down with her shortly after her return to learn more about her experience at KCL; the research that awarded her the Bongani Mayosi Scholarship; and the importance of championing research in child psychiatry on the African continent.
Building academic bridges in London
The King's College London Erasmus+ grant is a PhD exchange program funded by the European Erasmus Foundation. This collaboration between KCL and SU fosters academic relationships and encourages further postdoctoral cooperation between the universities. For Lachman personally, this opportunity has been very helpful to network, formalise relationships and start preliminary discussions for future research in the field of infant and maternal mental health at SU.
“It was both a privilege and a great opportunity to be hosted in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King's College London," she says. “It was an enriching academic visit that involved research discussions, collaboration and networking within KCL as well as the Child Adolescent Psychiatry Research Unit at the Maudsley NHS Trust."
During her stint in London, Lachman also had the opportunity to present a seminar at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Oxford University hosted by Professor Alan Stein and deliver a presentation at the Health Visitors Forum for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health in the West Midlands.
Celebrating excellence in psychiatry
On top of the Erasmus grant, Lachman also received the Bongani Mayosi Scholarship – previously known as the Hamilton Naki Clinical Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship is awarded by the Netcare Physician Partnerships Trust to a clinical specialist or sub-specialist who demonstrates academic excellence for doctoral or postdoctoral research.
Lachman says that receiving this scholarship was not only an honour for her, but also a win for the field of child psychiatry which is often side-lined in favour of other prominent basic science research. “I am very aware of the huge responsibility this places on me to not only complete the PhD, but to start the trajectory for more meaningful research opportunities in child psychiatry."
The research that secured this scholarship for Lachman focused on infant mental health – a relatively uncharted field in Africa. For her doctoral research, Lachman looked at the Shared Pleasure Paradigm which is an observational method that studies the interaction between mothers and infants (under the age of six months). This non-language-based, culturally-sensitive method allows the recognition of positive reactions in infants, but also the lack thereof.
Lachman was also awarded this scholarship in consideration of the MPhil in Infant Mental Health that she co-convenes at SU along with Prof Astrid Berg. It's the first degree to offer regulated, locally sensitive, African intervention-based teaching in infant mental health. “I felt that we needed to find solutions that we can apply to our setting, rather than simply look to Western or Eurocentric research for best practice," Lachman explains. Since the degree's inception in 2017, 11 students have successfully graduated.
Developing child psychiatry in South Africa
Child psychiatry is a great field to work in and has the potential to influence developmental trajectories and impact children's mental health where it matters most, Lachman explains. However, the field is grossly under-represented in South Africa with less than 45 registered child psychiatrists. As a clinician-researcher, Lachman hopes that by answering locally relevant and culturally important questions, she can contribute further to the field of child psychiatry in South Africa and Africa.
“Although 90% of children under the age of 18 live in low- and middle-income countries, only 4% of all research in the field originates from these countries. I feel that it's our responsibility to address this by starting to delve into local research and continue to attempt to shift this imbalance."
For more information on the Department of Psychiatry at SU and Lachman's research, click here.