November 12, 2020
Parsa Bastani, a PSTC Predoctoral Trainee in Anthropology, applies anthropologic principles to critically examine the relationship between governments and health outcomes, with a particular focus on drug use and addiction. The Anthropology and Mental Health Interest Group (AMHIG) recently awarded Bastani its annual graduate student paper prize for new research that he hopes to publish soon.
The article, “Feeling at Home in the Clinic: Therapeutics and Dwelling in an Addiction Rehabilitation Center in Tehran, Iran,” describes community life and effective practices in a free residential rehabilitation center for women in Tehran, Iran. Of his main findings from his time at the center, Bastani shared that, “Feeling a sense of belonging in residential, clinical spaces has a big impact on the therapeutic process for substance abuse, especially for women who have been estranged from their families. This paper brings together demographic and anthropological concerns with kinship, gender, and health to suggest ways we can improve the therapeutic experience and ultimately reduce addiction-related mortality.”
In order to navigate the task of noninvasively gathering information from an already vulnerable population, Bastani focused on establishing trust and familiarity with patients and staff. He spent time in common spaces and helped with day-to-day tasks such as fixing computer problems, cleaning, and offering patients rides to doctors’ appointments.
“Through participating in the flow of daily life at the center, I eventually got to know the patients and staff and developed a good rapport with some of them,” he reflected. “Only after individuals were comfortable with me, and I felt that they were in a good mental space to talk, would I would ask if I could interview them.”
As for his interest in this underserved community and issue, Bastani explained that he always wanted to study Iran and the experience of social marginalization. “After I learned that Iran, a country with an Islamic government, had one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the world, I dove into the subject. While my dissertation no longer has to do with addiction in Iran, I hope to finish this larger project in my next position after I complete my PhD,” he added.
His dissertation further exemplifies his interest in how governmental entities address addiction. Bastani is investigating how law enforcement officials assume the role of behavioral health providers during the United States’ opioid crisis, an issue that he said has taken on added significance as the national conversation about the role of police has heightened.
“Many people are not aware that law enforcement agencies around the United States have sought to enter the field of community public health by setting up special behavioral health units,” Bastani noted. “I hope my dissertation and future book project can provide an experience-near account of what it looks like for law enforcement to do public health. At this point, we don’t really have a clear picture of the risks, benefits, and outcomes of these type of law enforcement activities.”
As for his broader research goals, Bastani hopes to continue taking on projects that examine governments’ roles in determining health outcomes. “My research has been concerned with figuring out what happens when the state simultaneously criminalizes and cares for drug users,” he said, adding of his work in Iran and the United States that, “Both projects ultimately look at the relationship between the state and health outcomes.”