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UEL embarks on project to ‘dramatically improve mental health in a country in war’

Docklands campus

University of East London and Herat University win grant for Afghanistan project

The School of Psychology at the University of East London and the Department of Education at Herat University have joined forces for a new project focused on the role of higher education on mental health in Afghanistan. 

The new collaboration has secured a Global Challenges Research Fund Networking Grant to assess and support mental health among Afghan University students.

The level of stress and mental health issues in Afghanistan has been consistently reported as extremely high compared to other international contexts.

“In particular, our proposal aims to design a model of intervention where higher education institutions offer pivotal student support services, which could drastically improve mental health in a country in war,” said Dr Lucia Berdondini, senior lecturer and programme leader of the MSc Humanitarian Intervention at the School of Psychology, University of East London.

Dr Berdonini’s research is related to humanitarian psychosocial intervention in countries affected by war and poverty, and she has particular expertise in developing transcultural counselling training in countries including Afghanistan, Angola, India and Syria and projects that enhance the wellbeing of humanitarian aid workers as well as beneficiaries.

The project’s pilot research will involve collecting data across universities in the provinces of Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Nangarhar and Kandahar using the Afghan Symptoms Checklist, a questionnaire developed specifically to measure the level of stress among the Afghan population, with focus groups, individual interviews and workshops with research partners, to “reflect on results and start to identify what’s missing.”

In June 2019, the World Health Organization claimed that in areas affected by conflict, one in five people are living with some form of mental disorder, from mild depression or anxiety to psychosis.

Despite significant need, healthcare facilities attending to mental health issues in Afghanistan are scarce. The project will tackle these important issues by creating sustainable mental health services in higher education institutions across the country.  

“Through this exciting new collaboration with Herat University, the University of East London will contribute to the current knowledge about mental health issues among young people in Afghanistan,” said Professor Verity Brown, pro-vice chancellor, Impact & Innovation, at the University of East London.

“This intervention model will potentially be implemented by higher education leaders across Afghanistan and replicated in other parts of the world, which demonstrates the global impact of our research.”

Future plans for the collaboration include implementing effective psychosocial intervention by establishing support systems for student services in higher education institutions in Afghanistan and other DAC-listed countries, and “contributing to the peace-building process in Afghanistan by using education and the higher education system."

“The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reflect recognition by the global development community of the significance of mental health problems, particularly in childhood or youth, as the leading causes of problems throughout the life course. 

“We’re aiming to develop and implement models of intervention in higher education institutions to support young people's mental health and contribute to the reconstruction of stability and security in the country of Afghanistan,” Dr Berdondini added.