Q&A "Closing the gender gap is vital on the mental health front”
In this Q&A Interview, Bobbie Ray Sannerud, an American executive and Clinical Psychologist in Oslo shares her reflections with the WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce about the ongoing pandemic and the importance of closing the gender gap.
Bobbie Ray Sannerud, an American executive and Clinical Psychologist in Oslo shares her experiences during COVID-19, including reflections on how the Norwegian government can better support women, as well as disproportionately impacted minority languages and cultures.
1. Tell us a bit about your personal history that led to your current work?
I was raised in a small California town and moved to LA after high school, where I studied psychology and received my doctorate. I worked in the United States Air Force (USAF) with the rank of a Captain as a Clinical Psychologist in various outpatient service areas, such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and neuropsychological testing. I also trained in human factors and supported flight safety operations at Nellis Air Force Base, working for the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine on several interesting studies related to improving human performance and safety in these operations.
In 2012, I moved to Norway with my Norwegian husband and our daughter, and work at DNV- GL in a human factors’ role, leading a strategic research program exploring positions and roles in Precision Medicine. In 2016, our son was born and it then became clear that Norway would be our forever home, primarily due to the work-life balance available here. In parallel to my work at DNV-GL, I am authorized and licensed as a Clinical Psychologist in Norway and, in 2018, started my private practice in Oslo. For this interview, I will speak from the role of a Clinical Psychologist and my experience with patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Do you relate to WGH's Five Asks for Gender-Responsive Global Health Security in your work and how so?
Gender equality is important for me, so I am drawn to the first Ask, which calls to include women in global health security decision-making structures and public discourse. Closing the gender gap in decision-making is vital on the mental health front, as there are topics in mental health coming from COVID-19 that will provide more value from equal gender representation – for example, in action on the increasing rates of violence against women and girls under the lockdown measures.
3. Has your work changed during COVID-19?
My work has changed in terms of the psychological impact of the coronavirus pandemic. I have not only seen an increase in the demand for services, but also in how the stress and social disruption around COVID-19 have exacerbated symptoms of previous psychological conditions. The population I see is predominantly expatriates, and their situations create additional factors, such as isolation and time apart from their own families, culture, and comforts.
4. What are the challenges in Norway for your sector due to the pandemic?
We are seeing an increase in demand for psychological services resulting from the pandemic. While Norway is excellent in meeting the demand of handling acute clinical psychological issues, improvements can be made in increasing access in a timely manner for individuals needing support for non-acute issues before they turn into more problematic cases. And I would like to see Norway better capitalize on the ways that technological support systems, which are growing in this field (e.g., digital mental health services, remote care), can enable more access. I am interested in the adoption of technology to address the psychological needs coming out of the pandemic, as well as in how these digital platforms are not only are technologically safe and secure, but also in how mental health professionals are quality assured in their work.
5. Have there been any crises in your work sector during the pandemic? Have you overcome them and, if so, how?
During the first lockdown, guidance from the Health Directorate prohibited psychologists in private practice from conducting face-to-face sessions. This required a quick adoption of technological systems to conduct virtual sessions. For most of my patients, the transition was quite smooth. In fact, today, although we have returned to face-to-face sessions with safety precautions in place, I have many patients who prefer to continue virtual sessions.
Another challenge has been the increase in demand for services since COVID-19. The population seeking services from me are expatriates, mostly native English speakers, and find themselves having to pay out-of-pocket to receive care in their native language. I often do not have capacity to take in all requests and have few referrals to offer them. I can imagine this is more so an issue for those in other minority languages and cultures in across Norway. I hope that, as this demand increases, more trained healthcare professionals who can meet the needs of the diverse populations in Norway can become more available.
6. In your opinion, what strategies from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health or other government bodies might be helpful to combat the challenges of COVID-19 in your work?
The Norwegian Psychological Association (NPF) has been active in supporting psychologists with guidance in running private practice under the pandemic. From the mental health perspective, I believe there should be a working group dedicated to addressing the psychological factors resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic for individuals, families, and society in Norway. Such a group could investigate solutions for: 1) improving access to care for non-acute psychological issues with cultural considerations; 2) prevention (as psychological reactions can occur years after the pandemic has ended); 3) psychological education with considerations to age groups young to old, cultural, gender and economical status for managing stressors related to COVID-19; and lastly, 4) preparing for future demand of mental health services that may outpace available trained professionals.
7. What lessons have you learned both from COVID-19 and throughout your career that you might like to share with other women?
I have learned how incredibly adaptable and resilient people are. Despite the stressors, my patients have gained insights, perspectives, and have adapted to the pandemic, which has given me lessons to feed into my own life. My career advice is to talk to people, be humble, and learn from others. There is so much inspiration around us and a lot of those people are even willing to coach us through our goals. I have had so many coaches along my career, from colleagues, bosses, and friends.
Chelsea Ranger | WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce
Urusha Maharjan | WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce
The WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce serves as a national hub for COVID-19 and gender equity actions and activities. This ad-hoc taskforce is in support of the WGH Global's #COVID5050 Campaign, which introduced the Five Asks for Gender-Responsive Global Health Security in 2020 to help confront power and privilege. Both of which undermine global health by preventing women from contributing equally to the fight against challenges like COVID-19.