£1.2 million funding to investigate mental health legacy of colonialism in Guyana’s jails

Funding for University of Leicester project announced under the ESRC-AHRC GCRF Mental Health 2017 Call

The history and legacy of the British Empire in regards to the existence of mental, neurological and substance abuse (MNS) disorders in Guyana’s jails will be explored in new research by the University of Leicester.

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.

MNS disorders in Guyana’s jails, 1825 to the present day’ is directed by Principal Investigator Professor Clare Anderson from the University’s School of History, Politics and International Relations. The £1.2 million project is a partnership between the University of Leicester, University of Guyana and the Guyana Prison Service.

A multi-disciplinary research team from the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities and the Leicester Institute of Advanced Studies is researching the definition, extent, experience and treatment of MNS disorders in Guyana’s jails: both among inmates and the people who work with them.

The project’s perspective is historical, social and cultural. It covers the period from 1825, when the British opened the colony’s first jail in Georgetown, to the present day, following Guyana's independence in 1966. It is rooted in the hypothesis that the existence of MNS disorders can be traced back to the British colonial period, and that they cannot be disconnected from the country's history as a sugar colony that employed and controlled indigenous people (Amerindians), enslaved Africans and indentured Indian labourers. It sets out to investigate the ways in which Empire created particular forms of trauma, shaped demography and religious practice, and instituted patterns of population control including through the creation of new forms of institutional confinement.

Overall, the project seeks to enhance academic, practitioner and public understanding of MNS disorders in the jails context; build robust relationships between academics, practitioners and policy makers; and stimulate behavioural change. It aims to impact on prison security, the administration of criminal justice, and prisoner well-being, rights and equality.

Professor Anderson said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Leicester to work in partnership with the University of Guyana and Guyana Prison Service. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers will explore issues of mental health, cognitive impairment and addiction in Guyana’s jails, during the British colonial period and since Independence in 1966. These are now key concerns in Guyana, and the project promises to make a real impact on practices and policy today.”

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 6 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 & cultural insights into & prevention & 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

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