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DMU to explore mental health of India's internal migrants with new research project

De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) will lead a project to explore the mental health of internal migrants in India after being awarded a grant of nearly £200,000.

The innovative interdisciplinary project will use theatre storytelling practices to raise awareness of mental health and provide support for migrant slum dwellers in Pune, a city in Western India.

India Migration

The project is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

DMU Professor of Mental Health Raghu Raghavan will lead the project as principal investigator and will be supported by other DMU academics as well as partners from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bengaluru, the Institute of Health Management in Pachod and Pune’s Swatantra theatre group.

Over two years, investigators will work with internal migrants living in Pune’s slum communities to examine their mental resilience in the face of adversity.

Their stories will then be told in the form of theatre performances by the Swatantra theatre group and the performances will be shown back to the community in the hope that their reactions can be captured and more memories can then be collected.

Prof Raghavan said: “Internal migration in India is a major issue with millions of people moving from the villages to the cities in search of employment, so there are lots of slum dwelling communities, particularly in the city of Pune.

“There has been a lot of research already showing that people in slum dwellings can suffer from anxiety and depression. We wanted to look at a new idea in terms of there being something beautiful within their lives, so we wanted to look at resilience and how people construct resilience in the midst of adversity.

“We wanted to go for a more positivist model rather than a reductionist model of how we look at global health. The story of resilience has never been told.

“We will collect the stories from people and then try to model a theatre piece with the community. It is all about co-creation of knowledge.”

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A large aspect of the research will rely on DMU academics working in partnership with the people of India. It will also provide an opportunity to look forward and develop new partnerships in India for research collaborations.

Prof Raghavan explained: “This is not us telling them what to do, it is us sharing the experience and trying to build something that would be workable within their environment. We’re telling their story but we are there as equal partners in that story.

“We hope to develop this into an even bigger project. At the end of the two years we will have a major dissemination conference in India with all of the major bodies involved and we will bring the team from India to the UK. We then hope to tune up proposals for further research.”

With the potential to have a huge impact in the city of Pune, Professor Raghavan believes the project could build on DMU’s strong international outlook and commitment to helping communities both at home and abroad.

“This really fits DMU’s philosophy of having an impact in international communities,” he said. “It’s also a great opportunity for us to see how things work in a different country and share those research methodologies.”

This is the first time that DMU has been awarded a grant by the prestigious Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

Prof Raghavan added: “Being awarded funding by the GCRF is very significant as it positions DMU from an international perspective which is very important. It also helps us to make inroads with a research dimension in India, which is part of the university’s strategy.”

There will also be an opportunity for DMU students to play their part in the project, with a #DMUglobal trip planned for next year.

Prof Raghavan said: “It will enable cross-disciplinary students from both Health and Life Sciences and Arts and Humanities to see research in action. So it’s not just us doing the research, but developing research interest and visibility for the new generation and for them to see how it is being done.

“They will be able to interact with these communities and see how the methodology has been applied. They’ll be able to help in whatever way possible whilst they are there.”
Posted on Tuesday 17th April 2018

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