Course: Issues in Mental Health Research in Developing Countries

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Course Description

Introduces mental health as an integral part of global health research, including conducting needs assessments and intervention monitoring and evaluation. Presents and critiques strategies for integrating local cultural perspectives into research models. Examines methods of adapting psychiatric assessment tools for use cross-culturally and presents challenges for developing interventions for use in low-resource contexts. Encourages use of critical and creative thinking skills throughout to discuss the issues involved in this relatively new area of study.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe prevalent mental health problems in developing countries and discuss the issues unique to understanding mental health in these contexts
  • Illustrate ways that culture can affect mental health conceptualization, identification, and assessment
  • Define and compare methods of cross-cultural assessment of mental health problems
  • Recognize issues and challenges inherent in adapting strategies for research in developing countries

This course covers the following topics:

  • Burden of disease and overview of mental health issues in low-resource countries
  • Epidemiology of mental illness and the risk and protective factors unique to populations in low-resource countries and conflict zones
  • Strategies for identifying and assessing mental health cross-culturally
  • Techniques for instrument development and validation in developing countries
  • Cultural issues in developing, modifying, and disseminating mental illness prevention and intervention strategies
  • Special attention is paid to cross-cultural challenges in conducting appropriate mental health research in low-resource settings.


World Health Organization: The World Health Report 2001 - Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope. Available at

Course Requirements

This is a three-credit course that runs for eight weeks. The course begins with overview classes on defining mental health and understanding the epidemiology of disorders in the developing world, including risk and resiliency issues. These are followed by a series of classes on cross-cultural research methods, including an introduction to qualitative methods for mental health research, a review of issues related to assessment validity, and a critical review of different prevention and intervention strategies. The course ends with topical classes that bring together the different research issues raised in earlier classes.

Research Proposal

Over the course of the term, each student develops a research protocol on the global mental health topic and population of their own interest. Students are provided with sample proposals from previous years, and they develop the proposal over the 8 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 include:

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

Assessment and study protocol: Students are expected to research the assessment of the mental health issue they chose and discuss how they will modify an existing instrument, or if necessary develop a new one, as relevant to the developing country they are proposing to work in. The study protocol will continue to be developed in the context of understanding the cultural and logistical issues of working in these areas.

Intervention strategy and concluding sections: For the final piece of the proposal, students are expected to cohesively lay out the major issues surrounding the development, modification, and/or implementation of a prevention or intervention strategy addressing their chosen mental health problem.

Proposal Pitch

At the end of the course, students are required to do a short presentation of their proposal, thoroughly outlining the major points. Students are given 5 minutes to present 3-4 slides and respond to questions from the instructors and fellow students.

Other Course Guidelines

Late Policy: We expect you to complete assignments on time. We can't issue grade reports until we receive all assignments. Therefore, to be fair to other students, we will penalize unapproved late submissions incrementally per day. If illness or special circumstances impact completing an assignment on time, students are required to contact the instructor or TA prior to the due date to discuss options.

Grading Policy: The course assignments are designed as practical exercises to help you learn about the challenges of doing cross-cultural mental health research in low-resource contexts. They include:

  • A Research Proposal (60%)
  • A Proposal Pitch (15%)
  • Discussion/participation (25%)