ARCLIGHT stands for ‘Action Research Community Led Initiative Guyana Health Team’
Collecting positive mental health stories
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 (Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research Projects Programme), Dr Ann Mitchell (Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, The Open University, UK) will lead ARCLIGHT, 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. The project will also be supported by Dr Tania Hart (Associate Professor in Mental Health and Learning Disability, de Montfort University), Dr Andrea Berardi (Senior Lecturer in Environmental Information Systems, The Open University), Mark Gaved (Lecturer in Learning Futures, The Open University), Dr Deirdre Jafferally (Research Associate, Cobra Collective), and Gareth Davies (Research Impact Evidence Manager, Research and Enterprise, The Open University). Kerese Collins is our highly qualified project manager.
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 role of IET
The research will identify, record and share successful local practices for building community mental health resilience that have evolved to cope with challenging cultural, organisational and environmental conditions, and devise mechanisms to promote these in low resource settings within Guyana and worldwide. What makes this initiative innovative is how it will promote the collection and sharing of positive community stories through freely accessible local communication networks. Building on The Open University’s global leadership role in distance learning, the key outcome will be to establish a BSc honours degree in Mental Health Nursing in Guyana, which has gained enthusiastic support from the Guyanese government, the higher education sector, and civic society. Organisations supporting the project include the University of Guyana, Association of Guyanese Nurses and Allied Professionals, the Cobra Collective, and De Montfort University.
The ARCLIGHT project has published a practical handbook for creating community mental health resilience drawing together lessons learned through the project’s research. It has relevance to many communities facing adversity and it intended primarily for health and social care practitioners.
The handbook is the result of the research team’s work alongside three very diverse communities facing adversity in Guyana, South America, led by Dr Helena Ann Mitchell of the Open University. The issues the communities faced included climate change impact, domestic abuse and economic downturn. A common factor was that limited resources for dealing with the mental health issues were available. This makes the guiding handbook relevant to communities facing similar issues in developed as well as underdeveloped countries.
The handbook can be widely used by health and social care professionals for developing community resilience where adverse circumstances affect mental health. For instance, Covid-19, employment loss and domestic abuse are common factors world-wide. In the current climate the handbook should prove a valuable tool for anyone needing to address community mental health. The handbook is released under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0), and we welcome ongoing discussions about its future use. If you have any questions, please contact Ann Mitchell.