Mental health project kicks off in Guyana

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Over one billion people globally struggle with issues related to mental health, including depression, substance abuse and self-harm. Lack of research in implementation and policy change is further impeded by stigma, capacity shortages, and fragmented service delivery. In collaboration with Guyanese communities and stakeholders, and funded by the British Academy, the Cobra Collective is participating in ARCLIGHT (‘Action Research Community Led Initiative Guyana Health Team’), an ambitious new research project which will develop, implement and evaluate a capacity building and intervention programme for addressing the challenges of mental health in Guyana.

Guyana is consistently ranked within the top five countries in the world with the highest suicide rates. Mental health services are barely functional, with Guyana’s public health minister describing the country’s national psychiatric hospital as “not fit for human consumption”. Guyana is also one of the most vulnerable countries in the world with respect to climate change impacts. Increases in extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires, and vector-borne disease epidemics such as malaria and dengue, will inevitably exacerbate mental disorders. These disruptive effects will also increase pressures on public services, infrastructure and the wider economy, straining social functioning within families, communities and organisations, thus further deteriorating Guyana’s capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change and its multiple development challenges.

The research will identify, record and share successful local practices that have evolved to cope with challenging cultural, organisational and environmental conditions, and devise mechanisms to promote these through policy change. The Cobra Collective will help facilitate the process of digital storytelling within participating communities and the deployment of DIY networks both within the Rupununi and coastal regions of Guyana.

Keeping with the philosophy of participatory action research, the members of the research team are currently in Guyana engaging with stakeholders and communities in co-designing the research intervention.  The aim is to see how stakeholders and communities would like the project to explore community resilience from their perspective, in a way that is culturally sensitive and practical. This foundation work will set the project up for a more effective research process when community pilots begin in July.

Follow Andrea Berardi:

Senior Lecturer - The Open University, UK

Andrea has more than 20 years’ experience in teaching, researching and building capacity for enabling sustainable communities. His work has engaged communities from the Borneo and Amazonian rainforests; the floodplains of the Mekong and the Guianas; the savannas of East Africa and Latin America; and the coastal regions of southern Italy and Wales. His main interests lie in facilitating grass roots approaches to ecological sustainability and social justice using an action learning process.