Interdisciplinary efforts to train mental health leaders of tomorrow

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World Mental Health Day is October 10

University of South Florida graduate student Sarah Lokey said she was looking for a degree program to address population health, while also keeping individual perspectives in mind.

She decided to earn a dual master’s degree in public health and social work from USF’s College of Public Health (COPH) and College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS).

She takes classes with faculty from both the CBCS and COPH, an asset she said will add to her ability to work in preventive health care when she graduates in 2017 with her MSW and MPH degree.

“Earning an MSW in addition to the MPH was great because it taught me how to talk to people and about cultural competence, putting me in the field to gain an individualist perspective,” she said. “I think that’s important so you can be more passionate about helping at the population level.”

Lokey said she hopes her dual degree experience will allow her to one day address diabetes among populations, as well as the co-morbidities associated with it.

“I want to look at how depression and psychosocial factors contribute to diabetes management,” she said. “I don’t think people put enough emphasis on the importance of mental health, it’s still such a taboo subject. I hope that people realize that mental health issues can affect anyone, it could be you, your sister, your mother,” she said.


The Behavioral Health Student Organization is an example of how the CBCS and COPH are working together to create awareness of behavioral health issues. Students are from either college and have an interest in behavioral health, service learning, and promoting awareness, compassion and solidarity on mental health issues. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Public health practitioners should know something about mental health, according to associate professor Dr. Bruce Levin.

Levin, a joint faculty member in the CBCS and COPH, said there are a variety of programs to aid in that effort.

“We’re proudly one of the unique universities in the U.S. that has quite a concentration of focus areas and opportunities for students to specialize within a public health degree in behavioral health,” he said. “We’re still only one of two that has opportunities to specialize in behavioral health within an accredited college of public health.”

Degree programs and certificate programs available through each of the colleges include:
COPH – Department of Community & Family Health

MPH – Behavioral Health Concentration

MSW/MPH – Behavioral Health Concentration

MSPH – Behavioral Health Focus

PhD – Behavioral Health Focus

DrPH – Behavioral Health Focus

Graduate Certificate – Translational Research in Adolescent Behavioral Health



MS – Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health

BS – Behavioral Healthcare

PhD – Behavioral and Community Sciences


The CBCS’s PhD in behavioral and community sciences degree program was approved this past summer by the Florida Board of Governors and expects to have its first cohort of students start in fall 2017, according to Dr. Howard Goldstein, director of the PhD program at CBCS.

“Our application [for the program] was very strong because we have lots of researchers in departments currently that don’t have a doctoral program associated with them,” Goldstein said. “It’s a unique program that has a prevention science bent to it and looks at societal problems and how we can have greater effect in communities through the intervention work that we do.”

Students accepted to CBCS’s newly created PhD program will come from a variety of disciplines, according to Goldstein.

“It focuses on the development and evaluation of services and interventions to promote resiliency and social wellbeing for a variety of at-risk populations and those with behavior and mental health disabilities,” he said.

Once accepted, the student will design an individualized program of study that will allow them to specialize in an area of interest from mental illness, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, developmental disabilities, child and adolescent behavioral health, positive behavior interventions and support, behavioral health law, behavioral health disparities and disability research and policy.

“There are lots of faculty who are doing work in areas that overlap with the same issues that faculty in public health are dealing with,” Goldstein said. “Public health looks at it from a macro level and the work we [CBCS] do is more at the individual level, within the context of the community. When it comes to scaling up community-based programs, I see great complementarity in what we’re doing and what public health does.”

He said the interdisciplinary nature of the degree program will open many job opportunities for students in the future.

For more information about the PhD in behavioral and community sciences degree program, visit their website. You may also contact director of the program, Dr. Howard Goldstein at

For information regarding any of the five behavioral health degree programs offered in the COPH, please contact Dr. Bruce Lubotsky Levin at


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health