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Improving Mental Health of Mobile Populations through Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Implementation Approaches


Holly Campbell-Rosen, Ph.D. 
Center for Global Mental Health Research


This concept seeks to support research to improve diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and mental health services for mobile populations, such as refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and migrants. Of specific interest is research that addresses the mental health care needs of children and adolescents, women, people with serious mental illness, sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities, and separated families.


Conditions associated with migration often exacerbate inequities and may underlie increased health risks and poor mental health outcomes, particularly for those with existing mental disorders. The mental health care needs of mobile populations in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have received limited attention, partly because of the challenges in conducting research in chaotic environments where humanitarian assistance is provided. In these settings, humanitarian actors (humanitarian relief organizations, governments, non-governmental organizations, and United Nations agencies) must manage competing priorities to ensure that basic needs such as shelter and food are provided, typically before health care.

Mental health assessment approaches and preventive and treatment interventions need to be developed or adapted for mobile populations, with consideration to the language, culture, migration history, idioms of distress, and context of the population and setting. Further, implementing evidence-based interventions (EBIs) is challenged by limited resources and fragmented service delivery across multiple humanitarian actors. Cooperation among researchers and humanitarian actors can facilitate optimization and sustainability of EBIs in real-world settings. Implementation science research may also benefit from economic evaluation and budget impact analysis that can be used to identify and promote sustainable prevention and treatment approaches.

To address these gaps, this concept encourages research with mobile populations in LMICs on:

  • The development and validation of culturally adapted and feasible mental health assessment approaches to better evaluate the prevalence of mental disorders and identify individuals and populations in need of preventive or treatment interventions
  • The development or modification of interventions for the local sociocultural context and subsequent effectiveness studies
  • Implementation research of EBIs in cooperation with humanitarian actors to increase the likelihood that EBIs will be adopted, scaled, and sustained

This concept encourages research that includes a plan to engage local community members throughout all phases of the research, a research capacity building component, and a team including humanitarian actors.