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New research to address mental health challenges in Guyana

Woman comforting a depressed man

An OU academic is leading an ambitious new research project to address mental health challenges in Guyana.

This will result in a new honours degree in Mental Health Nursing in Guyana, which has gained support from the Guyanese government, the higher education sector, and civic society.

Dr Helena Ann Mitchell, Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the OU, is Principal Investigator for the project, which received just under £50,000 from the British Academy’s Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research Projects Programme.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) 2018 statistics, over one billion people globally struggle with issues related to mental health, including depression, substance abuse and self-harm. Lack of research in implementation and policy change is further impeded by stigma, capacity shortages, and fragmented service delivery.

WHO statistics consistently ranked Guyana within the top five countries in the world with the highest suicide rates. Mental health services are barely functional, with Guyana’s public health minister describing the country’s national psychiatric hospital as “not fit for human consumption”. 

The research, which Dr Mitchell will lead in collaboration with Guyanese communities and stakeholders, will identify, record and share successful local practices for building community mental health resilience that have evolved to cope with challenging cultural, organisational and environmental conditions, and devise mechanisms to promote these in low resource settings within Guyana and worldwide. What makes this initiative innovative is how it will promote the collection and sharing of positive community stories through freely accessible local communication networks.

Dr Mitchell said: “This participatory action research (PAR) study looks beyond the individual to deliver mental health resilience and well-being at community level.

“It takes an interdisciplinary approach by integrating psychology, psychiatry, information technology and environmental studies. As a consequence, the target communities will develop the capacity to use ICT in addressing mental health issues and a mental health degree programme will be developed for Guyana. This PAR approach will be relevant to other developing countries facing similar limited resource issues. We will also be able to apply the research approach from this study to the UK for addressing the mental health issues of diverse communities.”

Other organisations supporting the Developing a community-based mental health improvement programme in Guyana through inter-disciplinary participatory action project, which will run until 30 July 2020, include the University of Guyana, Association of Guyanese Nurses and Allied Professionals, the Cobra Collection, and de Montfort University.

Read more about the Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research Projects funding programme.

Read about OU curriculmentalum in Mental Health Nursing

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