Forced to Flee: New project to support the mental health of people affected by displacement

An important new study led by the University of Plymouth’s School of Psychology is set to support the mental health of refugees.

Entitled Forced to Flee: Co-designing a peer-led community approach to support the mental health of refugees, the project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and is the result of a three-year collaboration between researchers, refugees and refugee services.

Refugees can be seen as one of the most vulnerable groups within the United Kingdom. Experiencing displacement and resettlement can result in high levels of mental distress, but language barriers and difficulty in understanding how to access healthcare systems can make it difficult to find and access help.

Now a collaboration between academic researchers, refugee services and refugee communities in Plymouth and Gloucester is working to develop a peer-led community model to make finding help easier. Researchers learned that refugees preferred a model of peer support to improve their mental health but that little research existed on how and if this model worked. During the study, supported by NIHR ARC South West Peninsula (PenARC), peer support workers will work with refugees to develop a shared language about mental health, using this to identify health goals and access support.

Engagement with the local community is a key aspect of the project. People who are refugees will be helping to develop the model while gaining research and design skills, and employment and an advisory panel and local impact group will link the study to other refugee initiatives and networks, ensuring that the model is widely shared. The PenARC Patient and Public Involvement team will be instrumental to the development of the study and ensuring that the voices of displaced people are heard.

Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, Dr Helen Lloyd, is leading the study, and said: 

“We are thrilled that the NIHR have agreed to fund this important project, which is a product of a 3-year collaboration between researchers, refugees, statutory and non-statutory providers of refugee services. We are so excited to be working with the refugee communities in Plymouth and Gloucester, and our colleagues from Kings College London, The University of East London, the University of Exeter, and our statutory and non-statutory partners.”

<p>Dr Helen Lloyd<br></p>
<p>Avril Bellinger</p>

Avril Bellinger, Honorary Associate Professor in Social Work at the University of Plymouth, and Chair of Students and Refugees Together (START) said: 

“We have participated in the design of this research because it aligns with the strengths approach that is vital to our practice with refugees. This has provided a rare opportunity for START to collaborate on research that is grounded in people’s own experience and aspirations. 
"We’re looking forward to seeing the project develop and working with the team to further support the people we work with.”

Al-Noor Abdullah, who is taking part in the study, said: 

“As a refugee myself, being part of this research project is a dream come true. I believe this is a continuation of many efforts and attempts by academic and Non-Government Organisations to enhance the health of refugee communities across the UK. I’m proud to be part of such invaluable initiative which I believe will be a great help in improving refugee mental health.”


Dr Kristin Liabo, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter and PenARC Patient and Public Involvement Team Lead, said: 

“Working with refugees is humbling, inspiring and educational. I have learnt something new at every meeting on this project so far. We can learn about our own systems of support by hearing the experiences of people who have arrived here through forced migration. This project will go one step further when we work with refugees to support refugees, building on a mosaic of expertise which has been gained through service use, service provision and service evaluation.”

The collaboration consists of PenARC, the University of Plymouth, the University of Exeter, Kings College London, The University of East London, Livewell Southwest, Plymouth City Council, Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS), Students and Refugees Together (START) and Headspace, and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

The project, which will run for two and a half years will begin in May 2022. Keep up to date with how it develops by visiting: https://arc-swp.nihr.ac.uk/research/projects/forced-to-flee

Find out more about Students and Refugees Together (START): www.studentsandrefugeestogether.com

NIHR ARC South West Peninsula (PenARC)

The National Institute of Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaboration (PenARC) for the South West Peninsula.

PenARC is a partnership between the University of Plymouth, the University of Exeter and NHS organisations across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

Learn more about PenARC
<p>PenARC</p>