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Fulbright Program acknowledge UHD's Dr Shahnaz Savani's research addressing suicide in Tajikistan

Marisol Gallagher

Shahnaz Savani/news.uhd.edu
HOUSTON — The Fulbright Program has acknowledged a project called “Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in Tajikistan: Building Awareness and Capacity” by Dr. Shahnaz Savani, University of Houston-Downton’s Lecturer and Assistant Director of Field Education.

Dr. Savani has her teaching, research, and fieldwork exploring the complex topic of suicide. She was named as an alternate candidate for the Fulbright Scholar Award for the 2021 – 2022 cycle.

“I am very honored and humbled by this award. This recognition is a clear indication that there is an urgent need in Tajikistan to address suicide in this region,” said Dr. Savani.

Dr. Savani has been involved in service work in Tajikistan. Her familiarity with the situation in the area provides critical insights into her recent project.

Tajikistan’s lack of mental health resources and socio-cultural factors contribute to the vulnerabilities of its citizens. She considered these factors for her project.

“In western society, people can seek assistance through hotlines, mental health professionals such as psychiatrists or psychologists, or even specialized centers offering free counseling. These are not viable options for the people of Tajikistan. Lay volunteers or community health workers, if trained, can offer interventions at the community level. They can meet these citizens in an environment that is familiar such as their communities or their villages,” added Dr. Savani

She also said that door-to-door counseling to teach families about the symptoms of depression could help prevent more loss of life in the communities. She claimed that the community-based interventions that she proposes had been successfully applied in other lower-income contexts.

The interventions delivered at the community level will include teaching techniques such as deep breathing, problem-solving, managing emotions, and behavioral activation.

As a Fulbright alternate, she will teach three courses on mental health, suicide prevention, and research methods at the University of Central Asia. She also will research attitudes and stigma toward mental illness in the region.

Her class, “Understanding Suicide”, shares interventions relevant to populations in Texas and the United States that will help address suicide in the local communities.

Besides her research project, Savani has lectured internationally and shared her insight during World Suicide Prevention Day. She is committed to educating the students and public to recognize suicide warning signs and developing interventions to prevent suicide.

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