Dr. Yalda Safai: Mental Health Practitioner and Advocate
Dr. Yalda Safai
Yalda Safai MD, MPH, is a psychiatrist in New York City. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychobiology from the University of California Los Angeles. She then went on to do a dual MD, MPH program at St. George’s School of Medicine. She completed a Master’s in Public Health and her medical degree to pursue a career in global mental health. She did her residency training at New York Medical College. She currently resides in New York City and contributes to ABC News Medical Unit, focusing on delivering accurate medical information to the general public.
Dr. Safai grew up in both California and Iran. Her father was a Psychiatrist, which sparked her interest in the fields of psychiatry and medicine. Dr. Safai describes herself as durable, adaptable, and easy to work with. She has numerous years of volunteer experience setting up medical clinics in rural areas, providing medical attention, and teaching healthcare to school-aged children in the United States, Central America, Indonesia, and Thailand. Dr. Safai speaks on why she decided to pursue a career in the medical field and states, “The tremendous need for mental health providers is what initially sparked my interest. The lack of care due to the stigma surrounding mental illness made me want to dedicate my life to the field.”
“We live in a society that equates busy with important, awards accomplishments and is obsessed with achievement. A society that has made us believe we must justify our existence with contributions, achievements and productivity, ” Dr. Safai stated in a recent article. “We punish ourselves for not accomplishing what we think we should as quickly as we should. We become depressed when we fail, anxious when we quit and guilt-ridden when we don’t try.”
Dr. Safai even went on to perform a study published by ABC News in 2020 that analyzed the stigmatization of the mental health of medical professionals. Dr. Safai shared that doctors are concerned about the professional effects of seeking mental health help. According to Safai, questions on past psychiatric treatment are common with state medical boards, hospital credentialing applications, and malpractice insurance applications. While the Federation of State Medical Boards and American Psychiatric Association say that current impairment and risk to patients cannot be inferred from a history of mental illness alone, professional applications for licensing, employment, disability, and more, continue to base decisions on these questions.
There is a tangible stigma in medicine and a false notion that physicians should be superhuman and not suffer from the same diseases that consume others, like struggling with mental health issues. The superhuman image of physicians has strengthened since the COVID-19 pandemic. Images of health care workers in capes are constantly plastered over the internet; while heartwarming, this has elevated the idea of physicians and placed undue pressure on them to live up to lofty expectations.
Dr. Safai discusses what makes her practice so unique and states, “I’m going to be focusing on high-functioning depression as my main specialty. It is the depression that professionals such as you and I often battle in silence. It’s incredibly hard to treat and difficult to spot as the patients are high functioning and don’t appear as though they are suffering/are not believed when they disclose their struggles to family/friends/coworkers. In addition, high functioning individuals often suffer from stigma most, as oftentimes in the workplace, mental illness is regarded as weak so often the sufferers go untreated and misunderstood. There is also no good treatment at this time for this class of individuals so I want to dedicate my time in making life a bit easier for them.”
“My passion is to shatter mental illness stigma, increase awareness, advance public health literacy and change the public health’s perception of mental illness by being a good advocate for my patients. Health literacy is extremely important and that’s why I think the media has a strong influence in shaping literacy/changing perspectives and that’s why I want to be a voice in the media.”