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AMHIG Graduate Student Paper Prize Award 2022

AMHIG is excited to announce the winner of our annual graduate student paper prize. Congratulations to Sanja Kolarevic Pesich for her excellent paper, “‘ Mental Health Advocacy: Emic Perspectives of Families Living with a Mental Illness.” We look forward to celebrating her intellectual achievements at our annual membership meeting and at the Society for Medical Anthropology awards ceremony! Attached below is a short bio about Sanja, along with her paper abstract. 


Sanja Kolarevic Pesich is completing the Master of Arts in Anthropology degree under
the guidance of Dr. Martha Louise Lincoln. Previously, she earned the Master of Business
Administration degree at Santa Clara University in 2010 with concentrations in Marketing
Management and Leading People and Organizations. Sanja was also a recipient of the California Entrepreneurship Program award at Santa Clara University in 2011. She has worked as a marketing and communications professional for the last fifteen years and utilizes anthropology to empower her teams, create user-friendly websites, and produce inclusive marketing materials.

For her thesis project: Advocating for Loved Ones in Santa Clara County, California: Emic Perspectives of Families Living with a Mental Illness, Sanja conducted ethnographic research with people living with a severe mental illness and their supportive family members. Her findings suggest that the outcomes for people living with a severe mental illness are more favorable if they are surrounded by caring individuals who are willing to learn about mental illness and provide consistent, strategic support. Another important consideration that this study sought to explore is what society should do to fully integrate people living with a mental illness.

Sanja’s long-term goal as an anthropologist is to study medical institutions of power in
the United States and in the Balkans. Sanja is particularly interested in ways to reduce suffering for women in childbirth in her home country, Serbia, and she hopes to investigate the power imbalance between doctors and patients at maternity wards.

Paper Abstract:

In this paper, I argue that family advocacy has played a critical role in how people living
with a mental illness manage their conditions and live in the community. Through ethnographic interviewing and participant observation, I examined how families in Santa Clara County, California, define advocacy and what life decisions have proven most beneficial to their ill family members and the families overall.

Despite its significant prevalence, mental illness is neglected and research underfunded in both the United States and globally. Consequently, researchers are calling for a reformed approach to mental health and integration of multi-disciplinary practices. My hope is that by documenting and analyzing the lived experiences of people and families impacted by mental illness, this research contributes to a more holistic understanding of the mental illness and how it impacts communities.

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