Khyathi Gadag: Building better connections to mental health services

Published on April 25, 2023

PhD student Khyathi Gadag

Khyathi Gadag V. is a PhD student in the University of Iowa College of Public Health with degrees in dental surgery and health care administration. She also has worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Health Management at Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences in India. She’s interested in the connection between health policy and mental health and recently took the time to answer a few questions about her work on the UI campus to support student mental health initiatives, including starting a new student health mental health and wellness organization called Here to Help.

What is your degree/program of study?

I’m a third-year PhD student in the Department of Health Management and Policy.

Where is your hometown?

I’m from Bangalore, India.

In addition to studying health care policy, you’re also interested in mental health issues. How are the two connected?

My interest in mental health goes back to days when I was studying dentistry. I encountered a lot of patients and peers suffering from mental health problems (known and unknown), which left a deep impact on me. As I entered the field of health policy, I wanted to predominantly work on policies that support and enhance mental health awareness and utilization of resources in our community. As I further my research, I hope to conduct policy research to evaluate facilitators and barriers to mental health services in marginalized populations, predominantly in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and racial minorities.

You serve as the mental health director for the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) at the University of Iowa. What sort of issues have you been seeing among UI students and how is GPSG trying to address them?

Two of my key goals as I took up this position were to improve student access to campus and community mental health resources, and to provide culturally conscious, readily accessible, and innovative mental health resources for the students at the University of Iowa.

We conducted a survey on “Access and Awareness of Mental Health Resources at the University of Iowa,” and results showed that UI students are aware of the mental health resources, but they face a gap in accessibility and comfortability in using them at the university level. College-level analysis showed that a greater percentage of UI students were “unsure” of what initiatives and programs were happening in their colleges. Furthermore, most of the respondents feel that their college does not provide adequate mental health resources to support their mental health and well-being. This is a problem! Students typically have close ties to their college and having a college-level mental health organization that is well connected with university-level initiatives can be a game changer.

One of the key focuses this year was developing a blueprint for a structured university-level, student-led (i.e., peer-driven) mental health organization that is supported by university staff. As of now, there are many student-led mental health organizations across campus, but we do not have a formal or structured university-wide student mental health organization. It will be extremely useful to have a university-level organization which branches into college-level organizations—where all of them will be on the same page and there will be an easy flow of communication between the university and various colleges.

You’re also creating a new student organization at the College of Public Health called “Here to Help.” What motivated you to create this organization and what are your goals for that group?

The motivation for this organization came as a part of my work on peer-led mental health initiatives while serving at GPSG. We were working on developing a peer-driven mental health organization. Before implementing it university-wide with college-level branches, we wanted to implement a pilot organization in one of the colleges. Since I am from the College of Public Health, I took the opportunity to establish the organization here.

The organization is being established with a vision to improve mental health awareness, reduce stigma, and increase utilization of mental health services among the students in the college.

How can students get involved?

The organization will officially start in fall 2023 and we are excited to welcome College of Public Health (CPH) students to be a part of it. This a great platform for students who are interested in working toward improving mental health and well-being of the CPH student community, and I encourage them to apply for the organization’s executive team. We also have three committees in the organization: stigma reduction committee, mental health awareness committee, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mental health committee. All students are invited to be a part of these committees.

You can find the nomination form here.

Visit the Here to Help website for more details.

What are your career plans post-PhD?

I plan to work in organizations that conduct mental health policy research and health policy research in general. I am also passionate about teaching, and as an alternate career interest I am interested in exploring the opportunity to become a professor in health policy studies. No matter what career I ultimately choose to be in, I hope to put my best efforts in conducting health policy research and advocating for improving and protecting the mental health in the community.

What do you enjoy most about your PhD program at Iowa and why?

I am very grateful for the multi-disciplinary study environment and professors’ support of students. What I enjoy the most are the values PhD students share in the department. I have met some of the most amazing co-PhD students and we are like a family! There is a great sense of motivation and support toward each other as we go ahead with our program, which at times can get quite stressful. Last but not the least, a big shout out to the staff in the Department of Health Management and Policy—they are super helpful and supportive! Overall, I consider myself lucky to be in such a supportive study environment with ample opportunities, and I strive to make the best out of it.