Theresa Betancourt, Sc.D. ’03, associate professor of child health and human rights, directs the Research Program on Children and Global Adversity, based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Global Health and Population. She has spent more than a decade working in Sierra Leone studying the mental health and well-being of former child soldiers and other war-affected youth, the subject of this recent study. Betancourt is now taking a deeper look at another public health crisis that has ravaged the country — Ebola.

What is the goal of this study?

We want to understand more about people’s knowledge and perceptions and misperceptions related to Ebola, and relate this to past trauma and current mental health and social trust.

Issues around the social context of Ebola are very pressing right now in Sierra Leone, because you have thousands of affected individuals and a growing number of orphans and children affected by Ebola more broadly. We are particularly interested in learning how issues we’ve been studying for some time — such as stigma and social trust in communities — relate to knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors around Ebola prevention. We’re also looking at the mental health consequences of living in Ebola-affected communities and the interplay between past traumas and present-day stressors.

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