Helping one child at a time
Manpreet Singh has dedicated her career in psychiatric medicine to trying to understand why children develop mood disorders, with the ultimate goal of preventing their onset. A principle she learned early in life—known as “seva,” or service—has shaped the kind of physician and teacher she has become.
“Something that was very important to me—that Michigan State very much cultivated in the way that it educated me to be a very compassionate and service-oriented physician—is that I could instill hope in my patients,” says Singh, who earned her medical doctorate from the MSU College of Human Medicine in 2002.
An assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and child development and codirector of the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Singh also is a new mother, which she says has given her professional mission additional meaning.
“If I can make a positive contribution to a single child at any given level, whether it’s my own child or that of any of the patients that I see, then I’m happy.”
I work with children. I am interested in understanding what makes kids potentially predisposed or protects them from developing mood problems or emotional problems.
My job is really to do a combination of clinical work, research, and teaching. I am interested in seeing how kids regulate their emotions and how that regulation matures over the course of their development.
The kids I research range from ages eight to 18. We are interested in studying children younger, and I do have younger patients in my clinic. We have children sometimes as young as age three or four presenting with difficulties regulating or working through their moods.
So being sensitive to the fact that now we are understanding that many psychiatric conditions can start in childhood—as early as childhood and adolescence—we are doing a better job identifying those problems in children and adolescents and appropriately trying to find careful comprehensive care for them.
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One of the most somber morbidities associated with a mood disorder, particularly if it is untreated, is suicide—whether thinking about wanting to end life or actually attempting it. And that can be very important and a reason to seek help and be in the position to do something about a particularly vulnerable mood state.
Prevention is the really the ultimate goal for most child psychiatrists. It is my goal, personally, to be able to prevent the onset of mental illness in children who might be at particular risk.
I watch my daughter cry and it brings tears to my eyes. I can’t tolerate it almost—her sadness, or her tears, or her frustration, whatever the cause is.
My heart goes out to all of the parents that I work with who really struggle to find ways to help their children not suffer anymore. So, absolutely, becoming a parent has changed my perspective on that completely.
I think changing the world happens at multiple levels. And if I can make a positive contribution to a single child at any given level, whether it is my own child or that of any of the patients that I see, then I’m happy.
One of the principles that I grew up with was “seva,” which means service—doing service or community service for people and unabashedly without any hesitation. This is something that was very important to me—that Michigan State very much cultivated in the way that it educated me to be a very compassionate and service-oriented physician—is that I could instill hope in my patients. And I think there was no better career choice that it would enable me to do that. I instill hope in my families every opportunity I get and I think that is pretty special.
I am very happy doing what I am doing. I couldn’t be happier. I love my job; I love my family. I’m not sure I could strive for anything more at this stage. I am very content.
If there is anything that is out there, I think it is more patient interaction, more research opportunities to develop more ideas. And, hopefully, I think the one thing that is still out there is a definitive cure for mental illness for children. And I definitely feel that I want to dedicate the remainder of my career chasing after that.