Course: Issues in Mental Health Research in Developing Countries

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Establishing a Research Protocol

» About the Project

To develop a research protocol on a global mental health topic and population of your own interest.

» Project Structure

This project is a written research protocol and an audio-recorded presentation with accompanying PowerPoint slides.

Students are asked to prepare three deliverables: (1) A research protocol of no more than 10 pages; (2) A PowerPoint presentation of no more than 4-5 slides; (3) An audio presentation of slides of no more than 5 minutes.

» Research Protocol

Students are provided with a sample proposal template and examples of proposals from previous years.

Students develop the proposal over the eight weeks to promote learning and applied writing skills. Students are encouraged to work with the instructor to discuss their topics and may request help in developing their proposal ideas.

The sections of the proposal will include: (1) study title and study topic; (2) statement of research aim(s) and literature review; (3) mental health assessment and study protocol; (4) description of possible intervention strategy and next steps.

» Study Title and Study Topic (1-2 sentences)

The first step in the process is to come up with a study topic and title. We are interested in topics that are real and of public health relevance; students should not invent an issue or a community. This step is often difficult in that it is easy to come up with general topics but not specific research topics. The more specific the population and topic, the easier to develop a focused and tight research proposal.

For the topic, students are expected to: (1) identify a specific location (i.e. community or region of a country); (2) select a specific target population (i.e. adolescents, women, older men); (3) select a specific mental or psychosocial problem (i.e. violence, depression, dementia).

» Statement of Research Aim(s) and Literature Review (3-4 pages)

Students obtain relevant background information on a mental health issue of their choice. The review can encompass both Western and developing country literature, but it must focus on the issue as it may present in a low-resource country or conflict zone.

This section includes a brief description of the population and context and any prior research on this problem or population that is relevant to the topic.

There might be limited literature for specific topics or selected populations, so students should look for: (1) similar problems with different populations, noting how results may differ; (2) different problems on the same population, noting how this informs the study; (3) NGO, UN, and agency reports and advocacy sites - but students should always cite the research itself that any of these reports or sites refer to.

» Mental health assessment and study protocol (4-5 pages)

Based on their topic of interest, students identify mental health and related problems that they will need to assess to conduct the research study. For example, a student studying depression among new mothers in Brazil will need to have an assessment tool for depression.

In this section, students discuss the selection of the measurement tool, including why this specific tool was chosen, and how it will be adapted and tested for local validity and applicability within the study population. If no assessments exist, students can discuss how they will create a new one.

The rest of the study protocol includes how students will select and access the sample for their study, who will do the interviewing and how they will be trained, how ethics and concern for human subjects will be maintained, and a basic description of how the data will be analyzed to address the specific topic. Care and thought should be given to the local logistical and cultural context for all of these issues.

» Description of possible intervention strategy and next steps (1.5-2 pages)

As a conclusion to the proposal, students are expected to identify and briefly discuss an intervention strategy addressing the mental health problem being focused on, highlighting major issues surrounding its development, modification, and/or implementation.

Students must include a discussion of a few limitations of the overall study and of the ethical issues as well as any policy implications the research results may influence.

» Presentation

The research proposal must be translated into a presentation with 4-5 content slides that thoroughly outline the major points. Additionally, the accompanying audio must be limited to a maximum of 3 minutes.

Suggested slide format:

Slide 1: Show the title of the project, author name and title and a graphic or photo or something visual that illustrates the problem statement

Slide 2: Show the background information and problem statement (use bullets or a chart to highlight)

Slide 3: Show the assessment and study protocol

Slide 4: Show your intervention strategy

Students are encouraged to maximize the medium by using bullets, charts, graphs or other visual cues. Font size should be no smaller than 24 pt. Backgrounds should be simple but appealing, and animation should be used sparingly, as it can be more of a distraction than helpful if used in excess or inappropriately.