£2.9m funding boost to promote mental wellbeing for young people in sub-Saharan Africa

A team of researchers from the University of Aberdeen have been awarded around £2.9 million to help promote mental wellbeing in children and adolescents living in some of the least developed countries in the world.

Throughout the four-year project, the team will work alongside children and adolescents, parents, community members, teachers and policymakers in Rwanda and Ethiopia to improve mental wellbeing.

Led by Professor Pamela Abbott from the School of Education jointly with Professor Agnes Binagwaho, Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, Rwanda, the multi-faceted cross-disciplinary team includes Dr Lucia D’Ambruoso from the Aberdeen Centre for Health Data Science, Professor Graeme Nixon and Dr Rachel Shanks from the School of Education; and Professor Paul McNamee from the Health Economics Research Unit.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) the project will design and test a mindfulness programme in schools that the researchers anticipate will ‘make young people happier, less likely to develop mental and physical illnesses and better able to have fuller roles in society'.

Professor Abbott explains: “Rwanda and Ethiopia are among the least developed countries on the Development Assistance Committee list of aid eligible countries and are among the poorest and least happy countries in the world.

“Our focus in this project is on promoting the mental wellbeing of children and adolescents to enable these young people to enjoy their childhood and develop their full potential, reducing the burden of poor mental wellbeing. As well as having a happy childhood, when they grow up, we hope these young people will be able to lead adult lives that are productive and satisfying.”

Professor Binagwaho said: “There is an urgent need to improve the mental wellbeing of children around the world however there is little in the way of curative provision in many countries. The World Health Organisation has said by 2030 mental health issues will form the biggest burden on health care resources so the potential impact of this study cannot be underestimated.”

Professor Graeme Nixon from the School of Education at the University added: “I am really looking forward to working with teacher educators, teachers and young people in developing and delivering a mindfulness-based programme for schools in these countries, hopefully replicating studies which show that secular mindfulness-based interventions can enhance resilience, wellbeing, reflection, agency and learning in teachers and learners.”

Dr Lucia D’Ambruoso adds: “Recognising local skills and knowledge, we will collaborate with children, young people, their parents, teachers, community leaders and policymakers throughout the project. This will give us the best chance of developing a locally relevant programme, and for policymakers to use our findings to promote the mental wellbeing of young people in Rwanda, Ethiopia, and sub-Saharan Africa more generally.”

Dr Rachel Shanks said of the project: “Ultimately, we hope that our project will also train the next generation of African research leaders in health research and address one of the biggest burdens of preventable suffering of our generation.”