Exploring Solutions To Mental Health Challenges in Africa Through Research

February 2, 2024

‘I don’t know why I get so down that I can’t even move an inch, Oh, I don’t know why…’ 

The lyrics by South African musician and songwriter Msaki perhaps embody the daily experiences of many young people across Africa and beyond. Mental health issues affect millions of people of all ages. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 116 million people in Africa were living with a mental health condition.  The widespread occurrence of mental health issues is attributed to economic pressures, conflicts, the pressures of life, and various other factors. For young people, these issues may be compounded by the amplification of peer pressure. This significantly impacts the individual, as their capacity to function well and cope with the complexities of life results in diminished productivity, considerable distress, and emotional anguish for individuals, their families, and communities. 

Despite these challenges, access to quality mental health care in the continent is limited owing to inadequate investment in prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation services. In addition, there is a need for a clear picture of the status of mental health from regional, national, and sub-national perspectives. Comprehensive, up-to-date data can help provide these critical insights and inform strategic investment in mental health by governments, funders, and other interested parties.

It is for this reason that the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), in partnership with Wellcome Trust, launched the Mental Health Data Prize– Africa (MHDPA) to address existing gaps in our understanding of anxiety, depression and psychosis and improve evidence-based decision-making on the continent. Through the initiative, multidisciplinary teams will generate scalable innovations and data-driven insights that can contribute to our understanding of the three conditions. In addition, the Prize seeks to understand the complex systems, including social and structural determinants of mental health, and identify more targeted mental health conditions prevention, treatment, and care interventions and implementation strategies; to evaluate the implementation of data-driven insights; and integrate meaningful engagement of community and implementing partners at every stage of the research. The MHDPA, which is funded for one year, is the first of its kind and is open to innovators, researchers, and startups for up to £200,000.

As part of this initiative, interested individuals can sign up for a free capacity-strengthening program over five months. The sessions, which start in February 2024, are meant to help potential applicants unlock the full potential of data science, advanced statistical analysis, and machine learning algorithms tailored for mental health applications on the continent. On its part, APHRC will assist in forming multidisciplinary teams, match-making individuals, and providing access to identified data sources.

Perhaps one of the Mental Health Data Prize– Africa’s innovations will help the character in Msaki’s song finally figure out why they feel the way they do.