Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

Research funding boost for mental health in low- and middle-income countries

Published: 22 May 2020

The NIHR has announced funding to six new research projects to tackle mental health issues in the poorest people worldwide, through its global health research programme.

One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Mental health disorders have a disproportionate effect on people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where 75% of those with mental health issues do not have access to the treatment they need.

A total of £20 million has been awarded by the NIHR Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) programme to support development and evaluation of interventions to improve outcomes for people in LMICs affected by mental health issues.

Through RIGHT, the NIHR provides research funding to support cutting-edge interdisciplinary applied health research that addresses the health issues faced by countries eligible for Official Development Assistance.

The new projects funded cover depression in pregnancy, after childbirth and in people with diabetes; treating psychosis and other serious and enduring mental disorders; and helping children with developmental disorders and their caregivers.

The applied health research projects, each of which will last for four years, will take place in South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), the Middle East (Lebanon) and Africa (Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya). 

Two projects will investigate new approaches to treat depression during pregnancy and after childbirth. Professor Peter Fonagy and his team will trial a group-based version of interpersonal psychotherapy, a type of psychotherapy recommended by WHO, to tackle the symptoms of depression in mothers in Kenya and Lebanon. They plan to adapt the therapy to the local culture and setting.

The ENHANCE project by Professor Atif Rahman will focus on depression after childbirth among mothers in Pakistan. He and his team will develop and evaluate an app to offer a WHO-approved talking therapy to mothers, delivered by lay therapists.

Dr Najma Siddiqi and colleagues will develop and test a culturally appropriate treatment for depression in people with diabetes in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The treatment will be based on a psychological talking treatment called behavioural activation that can be delivered by non-specialist health workers. 

Community-based care for people with psychosis in Pakistan and India is the topic of research by Dr Victoria Bird and Professor Stefan Priebe. Their project will test a low-cost app based intervention called DIALOG+, which has been shown in other settings to reduce symptoms of psychosis and help people have a better quality of life.

Slum populations in LMICs have high rates of serious and enduring mental disorders (such as psychotic disorders and severe mood disorders, often with co-occurring substance abuse) and very poor access to mental health care. The TRANSFORM project by Professor Swaran Singh will develop an innovative collaborative care model involving traditional and faith healers, mental health professionals, primary care practitioners and community health workers, which they’ll evaluate in India and Nigeria.

African children with developmental disorders, such as intellectual disability and autism, and their caregivers experience severe challenges. Dr Rosa Hoekstra and Dr Amina Abubakar will develop a model of care to improve the wellbeing and mental health of children with developmental disorders and their caregivers with local communities, including offering the WHO Caregivers Skills Training to caregivers.

Funded projects

  • Developing and evaluating an intervention based on behavioural activation for people with depression and diabetes multimorbidity in South Asia (Dr Najma Siddiqi, University of York)
  • Evaluating the impact of group interpersonal psychotherapy in Lebanon and Kenya on child developmental outcomes, maternal depression and the mother-child relationship (Professor Peter Fonagy, University College London)
  • Improving outcomes for people with psychosis in Pakistan and India – improving the Effectiveness of Community-based care (PIECEs; Dr Victoria Bird and Professor Stefan Priebe, Queen Mary University of London)
  • Transforming Access to Care for Serious Mental Disorders in Slums - the TRANSFORM Project (Professor Swaran Singh, University of Warwick)
  • ENHANCE: Scaling-up Care for Perinatal Depression through Technological Enhancements to the ‘Thinking Healthy Programme’ (Professor Atif Rahman, University of Liverpool)
  • SPARK: Supporting Parents And communities in the Rehabilitation of Kids with developmental disorders in Africa (Dr Rosa Hoekstra, King's College London and Dr Amina Abubakar, Aga Khan University)

Latest news