Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

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Principal Investigator: Wietse A. Tol

Research Snapshot: Improving the mental health of male refugees

This study found that delivery of a novel combination of two scalable interventions for reducing substance misuse and psychological distress in male refugees, a serious concern worldwide, was feasible and acceptable. Further rigorous evaluations, building on lessons learned in this feasibility trial, are now needed.

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What did the study set out to achieve?

The study set out to examine the effectiveness of a scalable psychological intervention adapted for male refugees to reduce psychological distress and associated risks. These risks include alcohol misuse, anger, perpetration of violence against women and girls (VAW), and economic outcomes. Three phases were planned: (1) a qualitative study, following Human-Centered Design principles, focused on adapting Self-Help Plus (SH+) for refugee men; (2) a feasibility cluster randomised trial (CRT), focused on testing research and intervention procedures in preparation for a fully powered CRT; and (3) a fully powered CRT.

However the qualitative study to inform the adaptation of SH+ for male refugees found:

  1. The adaptations required would primarily concern the delivery of SH+ (e.g. recruitment methods) rather than the content of the intervention.
  2. Male refugees commonly use substances (mainly alcohol, but also cannabis, khat, betel nut, tobacco) as a way of coping with distress and that this is one of the key psychosocial concerns for men. Substance misuse is also seen as a critical barrier to engaging with psychosocial interventions.

As a result, the study pivoted to adapt SH+ for delivery together with ASSIST, a WHO evidence-based brief intervention for substance (i.e., alcohol and other drug) use. It then conducted a feasibility cluster randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of the combined SH+ with the ASSIST brief intervention.

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What were the key findings?

  • The combined intervention was relevant, acceptable, and feasible to implement. The pilot feasibility trial showed that running a trial with male refugees in northern Uganda was feasible.
  • Valuable lessons were learned in preparation for a full-scale randomized controlled trial. For example, recruitment and retention rates were good, suggesting that male refugees were interested in receiving support and they were engaged in the intervention.
  • Cluster randomisation resulted in an unbalanced sample meaning that the demographics of participants varied per village. This is important to consider and address when designing a largescale trial.
  • The adapted outcome measures of psychological distress and risk for psychoactive substance misuse were appropriate and showed good psychometric properties overall, suggesting they measure what they intend to measure and are appropriate for this population.

What does this mean for policymakers and practitioners?

High rates of psychoactive substance misuse, particularly alcohol misuse, were found among this sample of South Sudanese male refugees in northern Uganda, highlighting the need for culturally appropriate and acceptable interventions to address substance misuse. The outcomes from this trial suggest that the adapted intervention (SH+ combined with ASSIST-BI) was relevant and acceptable to this population, which is promising.

The next step is to determine if the intervention is effective in reducing psychological distress and alcohol misuse by conducting a fully powered cluster randomised controlled trial. In July 2023 the study team received a small grant from R2HC to disseminate findings and support the scale-up of SH+ in Uganda. A key aim of this work is to garner support for a fully powered randomised controlled trial on combined SH+ and ASSIST intervention. 

Related Resources

Research Snapshot Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Research Snapshot: Improving the mental health of male refugees

Manual, Tool Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Doing What Matters in Times of Stress: An Illustrated Guide

Latest Updates

SH+ featured in the national paper

Dec 2023

HealthRight International's work on SH+ to address stress and alcohol problems at the community level is recognised in a national Ugandan newspaper, the Daily Monitor.


Featured on TV!

Dec 2023

Spark Television featured a news item on an interactive workshop with key stakeholder in Kampala in which the SH+ Project Coordinator and HealthRight Country Director were interviewed on the effectiveness of the Self Help Plus program.


Uptake and Impact Small Grant received

Jul 2023

The study team received a further small grant from R2HC to complete additional uptake and impact activities between August 2023 and January 2024. The objective is to garner support for a randomised controlled trial of the combined SH+/ASSIST intervention, and to produce a range of communications products that support the scale-up of SH+ in Uganda.


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