PhD Projects Mental health displaced persons & ethnic inequalities and discrimination (Nijmegen)

Aim: This project aims to describe the unintended consequences of the provision of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to displaced persons.

Theoretical Background: Until recently, for humanitarian organizations active in (post-)conflict situations, providing MHPSS has often been seen as a secondary concern. Aid organizations working with displaced persons traditionally focused on providing basic care. According to the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development, Mrs. Kaag, however, MHPSS is a basic need and is just as important for the reconstruction of devastated countries as, for example, rebuilding roads. Humanitarian organizations are also increasingly that MHPSS is a prerequisite for social and structural integration of refugees into host societies. In recent years, a promising start has been made with research on the effectiveness of MHPSS. Concurrently attention for unintended, negative, consequences of MHPSS is growing. Unintended effects can be classified by answering the following five questions (Koch & Schulpen, 2018) (1) are they anticipated or not? (2) are they positive or negative? (3) do they affect the target group or others? (4) are they avoidable or not? (5) what is their size compared to the intended effect? A preliminary tentative literature search on unintended effects of MHPSS for displaced persons highlights various unintended effects, some of which are empirically found.Whereas there are indications that for instance focusing on mental health problems in refugee camps instead of addressing housing concerns has contributed to higher stress levels of refugees (whose primary concern was housing, and not dealing with trauma), the size of these types of unintended effects relative to the intended effect isn’t clear (Miller & Fernando, 2008). The unintended effect literature with respect to MHPSS doesn’t offer a systematic analysis. The extent to which characteristics of the humanitarian organizations offering MHPSS (and of the countries in which they are active) may affect the prevalence of unintended consequences, has been an overlooked topic completely. This project aims to fill these knowledge gaps by answering the following question: What are the unintended consequences of MHPSS and how can we explain -and ultimately limit -their prevalence? Although the focus in this project will be on the unintended consequences for displaced persons (e.g. social and structural integration in a host country), unintended consequences for other actors will not be neglected.

Research design: To study the unintended effects of MHPSS for displaced persons a multi-method, multi-sited comparative perspective is proposed. The PhD will start with a literature review on the unintended consequences of MHPSS. Subsequently, two case studies will be undertaken with the aim to analyze if and under which conditions these unintended effects of MHPSS interventions effectuate and which possible unintended effects have been overlooked so far. This phase of primary qualitative data collection will start by studying MHPSS interventions and their unintended effects in a transit country (paper 2) and will be continued in the Netherlands (paper 3). Based on the literature review, we will select the specific intervention area, humanitarian organization,and the MHPSS interventions central to these case studies. Fieldwork in the transit country and in the Netherlands will be conducted from an embedded perspective. Also informed by the literature review, we aim to collect survey data among displaced persons in the Netherlands and in a transit country who did and did not receive MHPSS. We strive to match the collected survey data to register data on employment and housing careers and health care use. This primary quantitative dataset will be analyzed in paper 4. The project initiators have a strong network with relevant stakeholders. We will closely collaborate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is currently funding complementary research into the effectiveness of MHPSS for refugees in the Netherlands. The network partners of AMID may provide further assistance during the data collection. These collaborations will also ensure the societal impact of this study.

Project initiators: Dr. Sara Kinsbergen (CAOS, AMID); Dr. Jochem Tolsma (Sociology, ICS);Prof. dr. Dirk-Jan Koch (CAOS, MFA).

For more information see:

Deadline for application: until 13 May 11.59 pm / before 14 May 2020 Dutch local time