The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) are announcing £4.9 million of funding for seven new projects across three continents as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) New social and cultural insights into mental, neurological and substance use disorders in developing countries call. These new research projects will run for up to 30 months and commenced from 1 September 2018.

Addressing and preventing poor mental health underpins a number of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. The innovative and interdisciplinary research funded under this call takes a social and cultural perspective on the challenge of mental health problems in developing countries. A wide definition of mental health was important, with projects encompassing mental, neurological, and substance use (MNS) disorders. 

Edward Harcourt, AHRC Director of Research, said: "The diverse array of research projects funded under this call reflect some of the big issues of our age. There is an urgent need to better understand the specific mental health challenges that face developing countries, and arts and humanities researchers working alongside social scientists can play an important part in tackling them."

Proposals were submitted under the following three themes:

  • Socio-economic and cultural contexts of MNS disorders and people’s understanding of them
  • Living with MNS disorders in developing countries
  • Prevention, worsening of and resilience against MNS disorders

Countries of focus in the successful projects include Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Liberia, Malawi, Mexico, Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda. The projects cover diverse issues such as investigating refugee communities and their experiences of depression. There is currently a limited number of psychometrically sound assessment scales for assessing mental health in refugee populations and the adaptation and development of such tools in the funded project will be beneficial for local NGOs, and international agencies that support the mental health and wellbeing of refugees. 

Joy Todd, Head of Health and Human Behaviour Research at ESRC, said: "We are really pleased to have funded such a bold and ambitious range of projects that will seek to improve wellbeing and mental health on an international level. The potential for social science and the arts and humanities to impact on people's everyday lives is demonstrated through the breadth of these projects and the important topics that they have chosen to focus on."

The full list of awards is as follows: 

  • MNS disorders in Guyana's jails, 1825 to the present day
    Professor Clare Anderson, University of Leicester
  • Using collaborative visual research methods to understand experiences of mental illness, coercion and restraint in Ghana and Indonesia
    Dr Erminia Colucci, Middlesex University
  • Poverty reduction, mental health and the chances of young people: understanding mechanisms through analyses from six low- and middle-income countries
    Dr Sara Evans-Lacko, London School of Economics & Political Science
  • Building the barricades: Three interdisciplinary studies on mental and substance use disorders in the context of armed violence in Brazil
    Professor Paul Heritage, Queen Mary University of London
  • The big picture: Adapting PhotoVoice to enhance psychological, social and cultural insights into and prevention and treatment of youth substance use in India
    Professor Anna Madill, University of Leeds
  • Mental health literacy in urban and rural communities in Kerala India: An interdisciplinary approach using applied theatre methodology
    Professor Raghu Raghavan, De Montfort University
  • Treating depressive symptomatology in Congolese refugees in Uganda and Rwanda: Adapting and evaluating community-based sociotherapy
    Dr Ross White, University of Liverpool