Barbara Abrams ’69 spent over 40 years of her career practicing in community and mental health. In the fall of 2019, Abrams journeyed to Madison for her 50th class reunion and returned home to Palm Springs, California, feeling inspired and ready to make an impact. Using her passion for mental health as her guide, Abrams generously established the Barbara Leadholm Abrams Community Mental Health Research Fund at the School of Nursing.
“Throughout my entire career, my driving objective has been on improving mental health services and policies to promote individuals’ and families’ well-being.” — Barbara Abrams
Originally from the small northern Wisconsin town of Amery, Abrams is a lifelong Badger and one of three children to attend the University of Wisconsin–Madison. During her extensive career, she worked in Chicago, the District of Columbia, New York City, and Boston. While in Boston, she served stints as a psychiatric nurse clinician, a state policy maker, and the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health for Massachusetts.
“Throughout my entire career, my driving objective has been on improving mental health services and policies to promote individuals’ and families’ well-being,” says Abrams.
The Abrams Research Fund will in large part support the work of Earlise Ward, PhD, a professor at the School of Nursing. Ward, a licensed psychologist, conducts community-based clinical research that focuses on mental health issues within the African American community. Her research examines the perceptions of mental health and how these beliefs may create barriers for individuals seeking mental health services and ability to cope with mental illness.
“I have witnessed firsthand in my clinical practice the impact of mental health disparities on minority communities,” says Ward. “I believe my life purpose is to help people understand, appreciate, and engage in their healthiest life, physically and mentally.”
Abrams says Ward’s research caught her attention “because her approach and focus is on identification of the barriers that African Americans face in accessing services — she’s identifying key factors that impede access to services, while adapting and offering interventions to treat depression. Her approach is critical to addressing health disparities in mental health, and frankly, all health.”