How do Iranian and Afghan sanctuary seekers understand mental health?

This study aimed to find out how mental health and well-being researchers should work with Iranians and Afghan sanctuary seekers in the UK, their communities and organisations that support them. To answer this question, I conducted an ethnography of three participatory action research projects with Iranian and Afghan community groups. You can access the report that was produced as a result of the participatory work with the Iranian community group here. 

Methods

Participatory action research (PAR)

Participatory action research involves participants as decision makers and co-researchers at all stages of the research process, while using findings to take action and improve people’s lives.

Ethnography

Ethnography is research that describes social norms and groups, primarily through observation.

Findings

Theme 1: Negotiating diaspora community values and dynamics

LESSON:

Be conscious of the nuances of migrant identities

POSSIBLE RESEARCH ACTIONS:

1. During initial engagement, explicitly and honestly describe identities. 2. Adapt to transnationality, ensuring departed team members can contribute from abroad. 3. Plan around cultural and religious holidays and spread out the research commitment over time. 4. Emphasise opportunities to publish academically and enable participants to draw on university resources.

Theme 2: Collaborating with migrant community organisations

LESSON:

Identify how the structure of collaborating organisations might influence research

POSSIBLE RESEARCH ACTIONS:

1. Establish what resource is to be brought to organisation-communities. 2. Ensure that research builds on implicit knowledge in organisation-communities. 3. Sign an MOU listing mutual commitments. 4. Conduct a series of introductory interviews and attend organisation events before the start of a collaboration.

LESSON:

Challenge internal organisation and community oppressions when appropriate

POSSIBLE RESEARCH ACTIONS:

1. Create PAR spaces independent to the organisation-community. 2. Find a source of legitimacy outside of the organisation hierarchy, for instance in letters of support from established community members. 3. Decide PAR meeting logistics by consensus.

Theme 3: Addressing researcher-participant power dynamics

LESSON:

Offer participants a choice of research approach

POSSIBLE RESEARCH ACTIONS:

1. Run a basic training session on different possible research approaches 2. Begin PAR with a series of one-on-one discussions with each team member, to get to know them and how they wanted their expertise to be recognised.

LESSON:

Proactively facilitate the participation of marginalised people

POSSIBLE RESEARCH ACTIONS:

1. Talk through the meeting agenda with quieter PAR members before meetings. 2. Before the research begins, have a frank discussion with participants about payment.

LESSON:

Ensure that ethical procedures are culturally accessible

POSSIBLE RESEARCH ACTIONS:

1. Recognise, understand, and incorporate community ethical values into ethical procedures. 2. Use creative ways of ensuring iterative consent such as a weekly ethics activity. 3. Provide an introductory ethics training session.

Interview with PAR team member

Milad was part of the participatory action research team at the Iranian Association. We investigated personal development in the Iranian community through questionnaires and focus groups. Milad played a key role in developing the research protocol, facilitating focus groups and analysing data. In this video Milad reflects on his experiences being part of the team. He speaks Persian and there are English subtitles. This echoes how we mixed languages during our team meetings.