Health & Fitness

Dr. Yalda Saffai: Advocate and Mental Health Practitioner

Yalda Safai, MD, MPH is a New York City psychiatrist. From the University of California Los Angeles, she received her undergraduate degree in Psychobiology. After graduating from the University of California Los Angeles, she completed a dual MD/MPH program at St. George’s School of Medicine. To pursue a career as a global mental health specialist, she completed both a Master’s degree in public health and her medical degree. New York Medical College was where she completed her residency training. She currently resides in New York City.

Dr. Safai was born in Iran and California. Her father was a psychiatrist, which inspired her interest in medicine and psychiatry. Dr. Safai describes herself as adaptable, durable, and easy-to-work with. Her volunteer experience includes setting up clinics in rural areas and providing medical care. She also teaches healthcare to children in schools in the United States, Central America and Indonesia.

Dr. Safai discusses why she chose to enter the medical field. She states that “the tremendous need for mental healthcare providers was what first sparked my interest.” I wanted to devote my entire life to this field because of the stigma around mental illness and the lack of treatment.

We live in a society where busy is synonymous with accomplishments, and awards are a given. In a recent article, Dr. Safai said that society has convinced us to justify our existence by our contributions, achievements, and productivity. We punish ourselves when we don’t achieve what we believe we should as quickly. We get depressed when our attempts fail, anxious when they give up, and guilty-ridden when we do not try.

Dr. Safai was even able to conduct a study that ABC News published in 2020 about the stigmatization of mental health among medical professionals. Dr. Safai said that doctors worry about the professional consequences of seeking out mental health care. Safai said that questions about past psychiatric treatment are common in state medical boards, hospital credentialing and insurance applications. The Federation of State Medical Boards (American Psychiatric Association) states that patients are not at risk of current impairment or risk due to past mental illness. However, these questions continue to be used in professional applications for licensure, disability and employment.

Medicine is subject to a stigma and doctors are often viewed as inferior. Since the COVID-19 epidemic, physicians have been portrayed as superhuman. The internet is full of images of health care workers wearing capes. While this is heartwarming, it has raised the image of doctors and put undue pressure upon them to live upto lofty expectations.

Dr. Safai discusses the uniqueness of her practice and says, “I’m going be focusing my primary specialty on high-functioning depressive disorder.” This is the type of depression professionals like you and I struggle with in silence. It’s incredibly hard to treat and difficult to spot as the patients are high functioning and don’t appear as though they are suffering/are not believed when they disclose their struggles to family/friends/coworkers. High functioning people are more likely to suffer from stigma. Because mental illness is often misunderstood and not treated, often they go untreated. This group of people also has no treatment, so I will dedicate my time to making their lives easier.

My passion is to break down mental illness stigma, increase awareness, improve public health literacy, and change public perceptions of mental illness through being an advocate for my patients. Health literacy is vital. I believe the media can have a significant influence on shaping literacy/changing perspectives. That’s why, I want to be a voice within the media.

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