SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Margaret Roach, a rising senior at Wofford College, will use her personal experience with mental illness as the foundation for research she will conduct in India this fall as the college’s 37th Presidential International Scholar.

Roach, a psychology major with a concentration in medicine and the liberal arts from Concord, North Carolina, will research the “integration of traditional medicine with the biomedical approach to treating mental health in India,” looking at traditional and modern treatments for mental health in that country. Her faculty mentor will be Dr. John C. Lefebvre, professor of psychology.

“I have dealt personally with mental illness for the better part of a decade, giving me ample experience in navigating the western or biomedical approach to treating mental health, which has come with both triumphs and challenges,” Roach says. “I know very well from my own experiences as well as my psychology major that mental health is multifaceted, and while an advanced biomedical system of treating mental health – through psychiatrists, psychologists, talk therapy, medication and more – does a lot to tackle the mental health epidemic, there are other factors that contribute to the holistic well-being of an individual. I’d like to look beyond this ‘western’ system of treating mental health with a broader lens of public health to learn about alternative, religious, cultural, traditional systems.”

Wofford President Nayef Samhat says, “Margaret Roach’s research is an intriguing and thoughtful study that brings the traditional and the modern into sharp relief. She is a remarkable young woman who is engaged in many aspects of the Wofford community, including working in the Wellness Center and serving as a member of Campus Union and the Psychology Kingdom, concentrating on creating conversations about mental health issues. As project coordinator for the Wofford Resilience Project, she actively is helping gather voices and stories to share as ways of providing inspiration, solutions to problems and encouragement to her fellow students, faculty and staff members. I’m excited to see where she takes her research. She is most deserving of this scholarship.”

The Presidential International Scholarship annually goes to “the student most likely to make a difference in the future” to conduct independent research in a non-traditional location. The scholar, selected by the president of the college, is a student with exceptional potential to benefit humankind, passion for service learning and a globally-minded intellectual curiosity.

The framework of Roach’s research travel will be provided through the SIT Study Abroad program “India: Public Health, Gender and Community Action.” Her independent research, which will culminate in a research paper and presentation upon her return to campus, will enable research in northern India on traditional medicine approaches to mental health care and psychological well-being in India in comparison to the biomedical approach.

“Based in New Delhi, the program allows for exploration of both ancient and contemporary approaches to public health,” she says. “The SIT India program offers the ideal opportunity to build contacts and collaborate with a diverse range of public health agencies and experts.”

Roach also will participate in public health NGO workshops, with the opportunity to work with mental health organizations and traditional healing practices.

“My research goals include evaluating the successes and insufficiencies of the current biomedical model in India for treating psychiatric conditions and understanding the cultural significance of traditional healing methods in India, and the potential harm or benefits to clients,” Roach says. She also will look at how traditional medicine practitioners can be used to alleviate the burden on the healthcare system and how traditional healing practices and biomedical treatments can be integrated to create culturally sensitive approaches for treating mental illness.

“This year, the World Health Organization estimates that 267 million people in India will be affected by mental illness,” she adds. “Access to clinical treatment for mental health is difficult in India. There are fewer than 4,000 mental health professionals in the country, leaving the population with 0.03 mental health professionals for every 100,000 people.” By comparison, the United States has 247 mental health professionals per 100,000 people.

“Given the shortage of clinical mental health professionals in India, the biomedical approach alone is not enough to combat the growing public health crisis,” she says.

“The research was inspired not only by my interest in mental health, but also the education I’ve received both at Wofford and abroad that made me question whether the ‘western’ way of approaching medicine is the ‘best,’ as westerners so often believe,” Roach says. “I hope to approach the research with objectivity and study the two forms of treatment side by side rather than with a bias that one is superior to the other. The goal of this research is to learn how alternative therapies are legitimate treatments that function in a certain cultural context.”

Roach says being told of her selection as the Presidential International Scholar found her “both excited and nervous. I found out that I was nominated for the scholarship when I landed in Cape Town, South Africa, this January for my semester abroad there, and then I found out I received the scholarship the very same weekend I found out I would be sent home due to COVID-19 concerns. I was honored to be selected and grateful that it gives me another opportunity to go abroad.”

Following graduation from Wofford, Roach plans to seek a master’s degree in public health, focusing on mental health or health behavior “with the goal of joining the workforce in a position that allows me to promote mental health in the population.”