THE ROLE OF RESEARCH
Dr Rochelle A. Burgess
Research has a key role to play in the space of advocacy for ending child marriage, and drives by movement in developing supports for the mental health consequences of the practice. Programmatic work in the field is continually driven by evidence based practice. However, what we know about the mental health consequences of the practice is relatively limited - and too often that research is not shaped by the perspectives of survivors themselves.
Ultimately we need investment in research to guide us in three key directions.
1) Understanding the pathways between marriage and poor mental health
A recent review identified that only 21 studies had been completed in the last two decades that focused on mental health and child marriage, with virtually no work done on LGBTQ+ communities, in the Latin American region, or on more severe forms of mental illness and disability. Different conditions may have different and multi-directional relationships which need to be understood to guide the best interventions, at the right time, for the right people.
2) New studies to help guide investment, and delivery.
What we have seen is just the beginning. There is scope for much larger projects that allow us to better understand burden in many regions of the world, and potential for adaptation of some existing interventions to help those who need it gain access to support now. Implementation science (research that focuses on the how and where and costs of delivery) must lead the way in future research efforts.
3) Including survivors in all spaces, places and planning for what supports should look like.
Finally, but most importantly- survivor perspectives must be at the heart of all research on this topic. This should be guided by a strong duty of care that considers how trauma can be triggered by and during research. In our project MARCH-ZIM we have focused on deep community and survivor engagement in our research - accompanied by the provision of real time mental health supports - to ensure that what we do matters to those who the research is for at all times.
We are all committed to ending this harmful practice. But along the way, there are millions of women and girls who will have been severely traumatised by the interacting forms of violence and struggle connected to child marriage. We have a responsibility and obligation to ensure that when we save generations from this harm - they have the resources they need to thrive in this world. That demands good mental health. There is no health, without mental health, and there is no time but now, to ensure we support the most vulnerable, to protect theirs.
Dr Rochelle A Burgess
Rochelle is an Associate Professor in Global Health and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Global Non-Communicable Diseases, at the Institute for Global Health at UCL. She is the founder and Director of UCL's Global Network on Mental Health and Child Marriage. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health, member of the ESRC peer review college, UK Trauma Council, among other affiliations. She is an advisor to the WHO on mental health policy.