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Postdoc Spotlight: Dr. Amia Nash transforming adolescent health and mental well-being with youth-driven research

Inspired by her own mental health journey and the cultural stigma she faced navigating it as the daughter of an immigrant, Dr Amia Nash is focusing her research on adolescent health at the School of Public Health.

“I’m so interested in the adolescent, the development age, because this is the time when we can be giving them the tools and the skill set to be able to navigate,” Amia said.

Amia works with multiple school districts in and around the San Francisco Bay Area and spends a lot of her working hours with high schoolers. Her work is specifically centered around the social and emotional well-being of teenagers which also includes conversations about mental health.

The approach she uses for her research is called Youth Participatory Action Research. This method is a way of engaging adolescents in the research process and including their voices in it. Amia wants to make sure the work she is doing to create health programs and policies affecting the youth, lays a strong emphasis directly on their voices. She enables this by frequently visiting high schoolers’ campuses and classrooms.

The high school children have access to a curriculum that they use to identify issues they are facing, like racism, bullying or a sense of belonging in their school.

“A really common one right now is mental health,” Amia said.

Once an issue is identified, the research process continues to collect data and conduct interviews with peers and teachers. The findings are eventually presented to the school principal or the authorities in charge, to change a certain policy in their school.

“And then, um, hoping with a long-term goal to create some change in their communities,” Amia added.

Amia’s passion for mental health advocacy and breaking the stigma ignited during her undergraduate degree, derived from her own culture and experiences. She took this passion to her master’s at Stanford where she focused her work on Asian American adolescent mental health. Continuing it into her doctorate, she extended the research more broadly to all youth.

Her decision to continue working in this direction during her postdoc at Berkeley was a merger of the UCB School of Public Health’s academic prestige and Berkeley’s emphasis on advocating for underrepresented communities.

“Berkeley has been a great fit for me,” Amia said.

A version of this story first appeared on the Berkeley VSPA website. Reprinted with permission.