Doctors without Borders and CAMH Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Cohen

10 Dec

Lunch with Mary 027

Date of lunch:
Thursday, December 10, 2009

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 recently, as in last week, returned from Ethiopia where he was working with TAAPP. My friend Sham works with him at CAMH and when she found out that I wanted to take out someone who has worked with Doctors without Borders, she helped me to get in touch with Steven.

The food:
We ate at Swan Restaurant on Queen West near Ossington. I have been to this place once before a few years ago and was pretty disappointed but was much more pleased this time. The food was great! I had the clubhouse with avocado inside – a golden sandwich ingredient. The one thing that was weird was that the sandwich did not come with a side, unless you count two cucumber slices and two olives as a side. I could have used some mixed greens, just saying. Steven had the hot plate special which seemed to be a salad with Portobello mushroom and goat’s cheese, yum! We both drank water and Steven had a coffee. The total bill was $28 with tax.

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:
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 currently a Fellow in the University of Toronto Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship.

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 (incase you can’t place that reference, neither could Steven but I’m pretty sure it’s similar). Yesterday, he spent the day at Penetangishene 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 6 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% of the global burden of disease it has only 3% of the world’s health workforce and less than 1% 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.

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2 Responses to “Doctors without Borders and CAMH Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Cohen”

  1. Allison December 12, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    Hi, I was wondering if Steven Cohen had a facebook or his own blog/website. I wanted to get in contact with him to ask him some questions about Doctors without Borders. Thanks!

  2. Lunch with Mary December 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    You can check out Steven’s MSF blog at http://msf.ca/blogs/StevenC/

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