Behind the Researcher: Bassema Abu-Farsakh

Monday, October 4, 2021

Bassema Abu-Farsakh is a PhD candidate at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing with an expected graduation date of December 2022. Her research interests include Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), nicotine dependence, and depression. 

Early in her career, Bassema worked in a psychiatric hospital where 95% of the patients smoked cigarettes. These patients were often rewarded with cigarettes and had frequent opportunities to smoke. In another hospital, she found that very few patients smoked. This hospital had a smoke-free policy, allowing for clean air indoors, by requiring smokers go outside if they wanted to smoke. Bassema observed that the patients in this facility progressed in their health much faster than the heavy-smoking patients in the hospital that allowed smoking indoors. 

Bassema also found that many patients living with mental illnesses and addictions have experienced traumatic events earlier in their lives. ACEs can cause a variety of chemical imbalances in the brain which result in or exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses. However, patients who have experienced such trauma can benefit from various treatments. These experiences have led to Bassema’s research focus to improve the quality of life for individuals living with mental illnesses. 

At the 2021 APNA conference, Bassema will present a literature review of substance use within Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) programs. The coauthors on this work are Amani Kappi, Kylie Pemberton, and Dr. Zim Okoli. The presentation will take place on Friday, October 15, 4:05 PM - 4:30 PM EST. ACT programs are composed of multi-disciplinary teams of healthcare providers focused on supporting individuals living with severe mental and behavioral health challenges, many who also use tobacco or other substances. Bassema began this literature review in October 2020 while working as a graduate research assistant with the Behavioral Health Wellness Environments for Living and Learning (BH WELL) research team.

The implications of the research could lead to the implementation of tobacco-free policies in ACT programs as well as equip ACT teams to have access to individuals trained in substance use treatment. This review could also guide future research in supporting recovery for people with severe mental illnesses and inform evidence-based practice.