Irish-led research to help refugees

Syrian refugees at the Greek border in 2016.

The traumatic effects of war and conflict on people coming to Europe could be better assessed and treated as a result of an international project led by Irish researchers.

They will be examining post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems among refugees, asylum seekers, and forcibly displaced migrants who arrive in Europe from conflict zones.

These are among the traumatised groups which are the focus of the Context project (Collaborative Network for Training and Excellence in Psychotraumatology), led by the Centre for Global Health at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The 12 PhD candidates come to the Context project with degrees or postgraduate qualifications in psychology or sociology, and each will spend half their training with partner organisations in Ireland and overseas.

Some will work directly with those involved with refugees or other displaced people, such as the Danish Red Cross and Irish organisation, Spirasi, which helps torture survivors who are asylum seekers and refugees.

UCC and Leiden University graduate Rachel Frost will be working with Spirasi and Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to evaluate the role of environmental factors in determining an individual’s psychological response to trauma.

She said such factors may be more amenable to intervention, compared to pre-migratory trauma.

This alliance of academic and non-academic partners will generate knowledge that enables us to assess if we are appropriately responding to the mental health needs of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Ms Frost.

It is also intended that project findings will contribute to improved interventions for traumatic stress.

“The emphasis of the Context project is on conducting research that is of priority to the organisations and to the clients they serve, so as to ensure that research findings are translated into better procedures, policies, practices, and ultimately outcomes for vulnerable persons,” said principal investigator Frédérique Vallières, a TCD psychology lecturer.

The project is supported by €3.3m of EU funding from its Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) grants scheme. 

TCD PhD student Camila Perera, from Cuba, heads on the first of several trips to Colombia next week as part of her project aimed at developing an evidence-based protocol for Red Cross volunteers in that country and elsewhere on how to implement simplified psychological interventions. 

I will study how Colombian Red Cross volunteers who do not have a formal mental health qualification can be trained and supervised to provide a structured and simplified psychological intervention,” she said.

Ms Perera will also work with the Psychological Reference Centre of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 

As well as forcibly displaced persons, some of the Context projects will focus on victims and perpetrators of childhood and gender-based violence here, in the North, and in Denmark.

Almost €13m has been secured in Ireland from the MSCA Innovative Training Networks call, with two of the nine co-ordinators being in the non-academic sector, something rarely seen across the EU’s Horizon 2020 research funding programme.

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