The University of Liverpool and the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) in Baltimore have been awarded a £1.9m grant from the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to lead a network to address child mental health in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR).
The network, which is being run in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Human Development Research Foundation (HDRF), is a part of the NIMH's global initiative to promote research in mental health and is due to run for five years.
Led by Professor Atif Rahman from University's Department of Psychological Sciences and Professor Lawrence Wissow from JHSPH and supported by Anna Chiumento and Syed Usman Hamdani - both from the University of Liverpool, the network will conduct a range of research and mental capacity building activities.
Mental health workforce
The EMR comprises 22 countries including; Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Iran. Disasters, emergencies and conflicts present a continual challenge to health in the region. These pose a constant threat to physical and mental health and can affect already vulnerable members of the population, including children and adolescents, in different ways.
As a result child mental health has been identified as a priority in the EMR by members of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
To address the mental health needs of children in the area the network is working towards a life-course approach being adopted by schools and integrating interventions into social and health systems.
The interventions are aimed at those involved in education including: teachers, administrators, nurses, social workers, and school counsellors. They emphasise strategies that can be implemented at low-cost and at scale, incorporating key principles of task-shifting whereby mental health care is provided by a non-specialist mental health workforce.
Identification and Intervention
School-based mental health programs have been demonstrated to lead to improvements in the social, behavioural, emotional and academic functioning of students, and the wellbeing of teachers.
These programs offer opportunities for early identification and intervention to address problems when they are easier to ameliorate and interventions less costly to provide, offering the potential to prevent mental health problems in later life.
The network aims to increase the use of these programs. This will be done by gaining a greater understanding of how to move these programs to a national / cross-national scale in a way that preserves or even enhances their effectiveness in addressing the needs and capacities of the people involved. This is particularly challenging given the tremendous diversity within these countries.
The project builds on Professor Rahman and his colleagues' long history of work in Pakistan and the key role that they have played in developing scalable interventions.
Unique network partnerships
Professor Atif Rahman, said: "Mental health systems in almost all countries of the region are a long way from meeting current needs. The participation of primary health care in the delivery of mental health services is limited. In addition, primary care providers are inadequately trained to effectively handle psychosocial problems.
"This project takes advantage of unique network partnerships, involving policy makers, governments, inter- and non-governmental organisations, and academics working collectively to surmount the challenges faced within EMR to address child mental health in schools."
Professor Lawrence Wissow, adds: "Despite the huge burden of mental disorders in this region, few resources are directed towards mental health care. The scarce resources that are available are often inefficiently used and inequitably distributed, resulting in treatment gaps.
"This is a new project but it grows from a substantial body of work that has really put Liverpool and HDRF "on the map" of the global mental health effort.
"The overall aim of the network is to improve the support available for those that urgently need it the most."