Missouri doctor preparing to leave for Africa with Peace Corps

LONE JACK, Mo. - A Missouri doctor is preparing to spend the next year, helping people in Malawi, Africa.

Doctor Lucas Henry is from Peculiar, Mo., where he said "the odds are with you, so I figured that's why I became a child/adolescent psychiatrist."

After finishing medical school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Henry went to Minnesota for an internship and adult psychiatry residency.  Then, he completed a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Chicago.

It was in Chicago where he learned about an inaugural program called Global Health Service Partnership.  It's a joint effort between The Peace Corps, the U.S. Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Health Services Corps.

"I wanted to do something to help serve my country, see more of the world and help those people who need it the most," Henry said.

The need for mental health professionals in Africa is big. Henry said in Malawi alone, there are around 15 million people and fewer than a dozen doctors to care for them.

"That's a huge disparity, compared to the United States, which itself has a mental health shortage," said Henry.

Henry will join 30 other doctors and nurses, from all specialties, in bringing their expertise to the people of Africa. For Henry, he wants to help people in Malawi become self-sustaining.

"What we want to be able to do is build some specialized capacity, so that there are more psychiatrists," he said. "There are more trained mental health professionals who are able to deliver quality care to those who need it."

He will be helping the University of Malawi College of Medicine, which recently started a psychiatry program.

"I will be integrating in a couple of ex-patriot doctors who are also there in helping to develop this program and build more resources for these individuals," Henry said.

But, perhaps more importantly, Henry will take his expertise and reach out to young people, who may be battling mental illness already.

"When you think about stigma, certainly it exists here in the United States," he said. "But even to a greater degree in another part of the world where there isn't quite as much knowledge."

Henry said people suffering from mental illness can have an even more difficult time integrating into society in other countries.

"Mental illnesses are sometimes cast into the lot of demon possession or witchcraft, or things along those lines," said Henry. "So you have to overcome some of those cultural barriers that still exist to helping other people understand the processes that are going on."

Henry said for most patients, all they're looking for is understanding and patience, and that is something everyone can provide.

"The one thing that any of us can offer, and you don't have to be a psychiatrist to offer this, is understanding, willingness to listen and willingness to be patient," he said.

And if he can help just one person, Henry said, he will be satisfied with the mission.

"As one person, I can't make a world of difference, but hopefully, I can make some difference and that's what I hope to do,"

Henry plans to blog about his experience. You can follow his journey by visiting his website www.lucashenry.com.

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