Breaking cycle of violence and poor mental health for migrants

  • Date

    Mon 10 Oct 22

Woman carrying child on her back

Breaking the damaging cycle of gender-based violence and poor mental health amongst migrants is the focus of a major new international study and global health research group led by the University of Essex.

The £2.56 million project will be studying the link between these two global health challenges which, although widely acknowledged, is poorly understood. Current interventions generally focus on either gender-based violence or poor mental health amongst migrants – ignoring the vicious cycle where one leads to, and escalates, the other.

The four-year GEMMS research group will bring together global experts in mental health, migration and gender-based violence to improve the knowledge around this subject which will feed into co-designing new training and public health solutions that will tackle these issues head-on and improve migrants’ wellbeing.

Leading the GEMMS research group is global health expert Professor Anuj Kapilashrami, from Essex’s School of Health and Social Care.

“The burden of ill-health among migrants is a growing concern but a major gap in public health policies,” explained Professor Kapilashrami. “Public health interventions are often out of reach of migrants living transient lives and battling precarity and restrictions. Ultimately, with this research, our vision is to generate the necessary evidence, tools, understanding and evidence-informed actions co-designed with migrants to disrupt the damaging cycle of violence and ill-health.”

Funded by the NIHR (National Institute for Health and Care Research), as part of the Global Health Research Unit & Groups grant programme, GEMMS will focus on India, Myanmar, South Africa and Zimbabwe – areas where there are diverse migrant groups experiencing transitional and uncertain lives in terms of job security, housing and access to healthcare.

Many have been displaced due to conflict and disaster or adverse climatic changes, as well as lack of employment and unstable livelihoods that are pushing the rural poor in search of a better living. Their precarious conditions can create an additional burden and result in different risks – and resilience – to violence and poor mental health over time. Violence they experience is distinctly gendered and can take many forms – from physical harm, extortion and sexual violence to trafficking and violence in domestic settings.

However, the mechanisms determining and shaping these intersecting risks are under-explored and there needs to be a better understanding of these drivers and how they change over time and place.

Working with colleagues at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), University of Johannesburg, University of Africa (Zimbabwe), Tata Institute for Social Sciences, University of Oxford and Health Poverty Action, the GEMMS project will build on existing work by the Migration Health for South Asia (MiHSA) network which delivers evidence-informed and responsive policies in migration health.

Joint lead of GEMMS, Professor Jo Vearey, from Wits University, said: “I am delighted that Wits University - through the African Centre for Migration and Society - and the University of Essex have embarked on this ambitious project. With a focus on ensuring the participation of postgraduate and early career researchers, we will be developing new collaborations and research partnerships with the University of Africa (Zimbabwe) and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, as well as with Health Poverty Action who are operational in Myanmar, India and Zimbabwe. By creating opportunities for international engagement, we will create a novel platform to strengthen knowledge and training exchanges.” 

Picture credit: James Oatway, the Endless Journey