A learning tour of El Salvador’s Social, Educational, Legal and Mental Health Systems

5 March 2018 - 10 March 2018
El Salvador
Contact person: 

Professional cultural competency, human rights, and global mental health:

A learning tour of El Salvador’s Social, Educational, Legal and Mental Health Systems

March 5-10, 2018

Join Sam Nickels for a fascinating learning tour of El Salvador. This is a “professionals” tour – not for students. We will cover a number of topics: human, legal and women’s rights, access to mental health care, immigration, social services, and the intersection of the educational and prison systems with these topics. We will meet with experts and grassroots advocates across these areas of interest, tour the national psychiatric hospital, and meet with women’s advocacy leaders, education and government officials. We will take time to enjoy El Salvador’s bounty—tourist attractions and eat pupusas off a fire-baked comal. Please spread the word on social media, your websites, and among friends who may be interested in going with you! Our limit is 15 persons.

Focus and questions to be addressed: What are the mental health challenges in low resource countries? How is mental health addressed in Central America? What beliefs about mental illness and health do Latin American refugees and immigrants bring with them to North America? What is the psychiatric hospital like in El Salvador? What can we learn from providers, patients and family caregivers that can improve our practice and service in North America? What is the situation in El Salvador in terms of human rights for persons with psychosocial disabilities and how do ministry of health officials address these challenges? How do schools address mental health challenges among students? What is taught and how in higher education settings related to mental health and therapeutic care? 

Who should participate? This educational tour is for all types of health and mental health professionals, administrators, social workers, lawyers and human rights advocates, educators and administrators, graduate students, counselors, governmental agency leaders, and others working with Latin American populations. Participants should have an interest in growing their knowledge and personal experience of health care systems in low resource countries, improving cultural understanding and competency, learning about the intersection of human and legal rights and mental health, education, and prison systems, and comparing mental health care in the context of global mental health and North-South issues.

Potential visit locations: National psychiatric hospital, University of El Salvador medical school and departments of psychology and social work, a public community school, office of the only nonprofit agency working on mental health on a regional basis (ACISAM), local grassroots associations of users of mental health services and their family caregivers, a local jail/prison, a local community health center, and a chance to contrast low-income with wealthy neighborhoods.

Leader, and partner ACISAM:  Hosted by Sam Nickels (PhD), research affiliate in the graduate department of psychology at James Madison University and director of Mental Health International, a project of the Center for Health and Human Development. Dr. Nickels has 22 years of experience in Central American countries working in community development, mental health research, and support of the growing grassroots user/consumer and family mental health movement in Central America. Dr. Nickels also consults as an expert witness on legal cases in the U.S. at the intersection of mental health, immigration, and human rights. The Association for Training and Research in Mental Health (ACISAM) is our principal partner agency in El Salvador. They have over 30 years of experience in community mental health, and coordinate a regional support program for users and families with funding from the Inter-American Foundation.  

Certificates and continuing education: All participants will receive a certificate of course completion, which is aligned with the CUGH inter-professional model for global health competencies for 21st century health professionals. CEU’s or other educational credit options can be explored individually with participants and will be provided if feasible. Please discuss this with Dr. Nickels directly (SamNickels@chhd.org).


Dates and cost:  The 6-day trip (1.5 days travel and 4.5 days intensive learning, March 5-10, 2018) is estimated at $1500, not including airfare (a few discounts are available for extenuating circumstances). Airfare from the U.S. usually runs between $450 - $700. A part of each payment goes to support mental health programs in Central America.