The word “mental health” is often tied with the shadows of stigma and misunderstanding. It is this struggle that pushed Dr. Earlise Ward’s research in mental health inequity in racial ethnic minority communities and to create the Oh Happy Days Class (OHDC), a treatment for Major Depressive Disorder specifically tailored for African American populations. The Business and Entrepreneurship (B&E) Clinic had the opportunity this fall semester to help Dr. Ward and her team begin bringing OHDC to market as a tool for healthcare providers to provide more comprehensive culturally tailored mental health treatments for everyone in their community. This partnership was facilitated by an Evidence-to-Implementation grant from the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research’s Dissemination and Implementation Launchpad.
In 1997, Dr. Ward, originally from Brooklyn, New York, came to Wisconsin to pursue her Ph.D. in counseling psychology. She notes, “I chose Wisconsin because when I was looking for Ph.D. programs in clinical and counseling psychology, Wisconsin was ranked in the Top 2. I saw that Wisconsin also had a focus on multicultural counseling.” With every intention to return back to New York, Dr. Ward was compelled to stay in Wisconsin for several reasons. First, she recognized a lack of African American clinicians in the Madison area. Second, post-graduation, she became the only African American psychologist in Dane County. Lastly, while going to work she met an African American woman on the bus who asked her about her studies. After mentioning she was studying psychology, particularly in cultural issues and counseling, the woman shared her negative experience seeking counseling. This highlighted the unmet need in the community, so Dr. Ward knew she needed to stay.
Driven with a passion to make a tangible impact on mental health disparities particularly within the African American Community, Dr. Ward dived into community-based research to understand their unique needs. Her qualitative research went to uncover the impact of mental health issues and preferred modes of treatment within the different communities as they had high rates of depression due to historical injustices and access related issues. The hardest part of her journey was funding her research, as these communities were not seeking professional treatment in a timely manner. However, with her research, it was clear to see that there was a true impact. Later, she was able to translate her findings into tangible initiatives, collaborating closely with the communities she aimed to serve.
Her most significant contribution in her research was her development of the Oh Happy Day Class. OHDC is a version of cognitive behavioral therapy treatment for Major Depressive Disorder that has been culturally adapted for African American populations. This program, created at UW-Madison, emerged from Dr. Ward’s first-hand collaboration with the African American community. She says, “there was a need to develop a culturally adapted treatment for that population to increase access to services. We wanted to ensure they were receiving culturally competent care.” In this process, as they moved forward to create and design a behavioral depression intervention, Dr. Ward and her team wanted to name it something that would have a lasting impact. “Oh Happy Day Class” was selected because it is a well-known gospel in the African American Faith Community. And lastly, the word “class” came out of the many words of gratitude from individuals that said they felt like the program was teaching them about the importance of their own mental health and healthier coping behaviors.
After validating OHDC through multiple rounds of efficacy trials, Dr. Ward and her team began the process of bringing the treatment into the community with an Evidence to Implementation grant (E2I) funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Program. This funding supported enlisting the help of the B&E Clinic along the way. Bringing OHDC to market represents a challenging business problem of matching a specialized solution to an unmet need and doing so in a way that ensures it is accessible both financially and geographically. The B&E Clinic has helped formalize the cost structure associated with delivering the 13-module treatment and training mental health clinicians on how to effectively provide the treatment. In addition, the B&E clinic has been helping develop a business pitch to convince healthcare providers to adopt OHDC and offer it in their communities at an extremely low cost.
Today, UW-Madison stands as an open and supportive community for mental health. This is very much owed to Dr. Ward for her years of dedicated work. She has left an indelible mark on both the university and the communities she serves, and the B&E Clinic is proud to be a supportive partner in her mission.
Acknowledgements: The Oh, Happy Day Class project was made possible by the UW-Madison Institute for Clinical & Translational Research (ICTR) with support from NIH-NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) 1UL1TR002373 and funds through a grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Program, Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP 5129).