Rebecca Lester, PhD, MSW
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Arts & Sciences
Dr. Lester is a psychological/medical anthropologist and a social worker. Her primary research and clinical interests involve the provision of mental health care services in the United States in the era of managed care. She has worked primarily with adolescent girls and young women on issues related to eating disorders, mood disorders, addiction, and self-harm. She has worked across ethnic communities (e.g., in Mexico and among Latinas in the US) and with people from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.
Dr. Lester is principally interested in the ways in which the economics of mental health care policy in the US shape the provision, delivery, quality, and outcomes of mental health services, and the ways in which qualitative and mixed-methods approaches can improve our understandings of these issues. To further these aims, she has begun a nonprofit organization in 2008 called The Foundation for Applied Psychiatric Anthropology, which aims to network researchers, practitioners, and advocates around issues related to culture and mental health, and enables the provision of low-fee psychiatric and psychotherapeutic services to individuals in the St. Louis area.
What opportunities do you see for interdisciplinary collaboration on public health initiatives in the future?
“Public health requires the collaboration of medical practitioners, economists, political scientists, social scientists, advocates, and organizers. In fact, the mission of my own small nonprofit is to begin to build these sorts of collaborations among individuals interested in culture and mental health. I can imagine the development of a Commission or Working Group on Managed Care that examined the myriad impacts and effects of our current health system on the availability and quality of services for middle-income individuals with chronic illness. Middle class Americans earn too much to be covered by federal programs such as Medicaid, yet do not earn enough to be able to access care after limited insurance benefits run out. If one has a chronic illness but only intermittent treatment, remaining employed can be difficult, thus risking having any benefits at all. I am, myself, particularly interested in mental health issues, since these tend to be chronic and require consistent care for an individual to have any chance of functioning effectively. I think the Washington University Institute for Public Health could bring a powerful and persuasive voice to the current cries for health care reform in this country, should we bring the considerable talent and passion of our diverse faculty to bear on this issue.”