Idioms of Distress, Resilience and Well-Being: Enhancing understanding about mental health in multilingual contexts.

This project extended research from the Researching Multilingually at Borders project ( in Ghana, Gaza, Uganda and Zimbabwe by focusing on the way local languages are used to express distress and well-being. Specifically the research aimed to enhance understanding about how capabilities can be developed by drawing on local idioms - of well-being, resilience and distress. Arts and humanities perspectives were brought together with the existing Global Mental Health literature to develop innovative ways of translating these idioms with greater sensitivity to the context in which they have emerged. In particular the place of the local environment and its importance for expression of pain and of resilience and well-being was analysed.


  • Conducted desk research and comparative literature review of expressions of distress, resilience and well-being in both the medical literature on mental health and in language studies and anthropology.
  • Conducted fieldwork in-situ and digitally, using story-generating methodologies which encourage participants to tell stories about their languages and their use of words in translingual contexts and research sites with researchers and storytellers.
  • Introduced the data collected into programmes which raise awareness of the importance of multilingual sensitivity for working cross-culturally and which aim to mainstream approaches to well-being in populations under pain and pressure.
  • Translated linguistic data into artistic expressions through an intercultural, multilingual, production and conference, which created wider impacts through training programmes in each context.

Fieldwork took place in the ODA compliant contexts represented in the large grant either in the existing case studies or through the researchers' languages i.e. Ghana, Uganda, Gaza Strip, Zimbabwe and with new arrival refugees in Glasgow. By using the language story-generating methodologies we strengthened cultural practices and intangible cultural heritage which is at risk, and mitigated the damage which can occur through a lack of methodological flexibility and sensitivity to the experience of researching multilingually in contexts of conflict or duress. By representing the data generated artistically, we produced performance and digital materials for use in training and human development activities for both intercultural and local contexts.

The impacts of the “Idioms of Distress” and “Researching Multilingually at Borders” projects will be extended though a GCRF Impact Acceleration Account award: “Strengthening Young Leadership Capacity for Zimbabwe’s Creative and Cultural Tourism Economy”. This project, led by PI Alison Phipps and Co-I Tawona Sitholé was awarded £49,076  and will run from 1 November 2018 to 31 March 2019 with partners in Zimbabwe.

PI and Co-Is - International Collaborators

PI: Prof Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow, School of Education

Co-I: Dr Ross White, University of Liverpool

Co-I: Dr Richard Fay, The University of Manchester, Environment, Education and Development

Co-I: Dr Nazmi Al-Masri, The Islamic University of Gaza

Co-I: Dr Rosco Kasujja, Makerere University, Faculty of Social Sciences

Co-I: Prof Kofi Agyekum, University of Ghana, Linguistics

Co-I: Prof Kofi Anyidoho, University of Ghana, English

Start and End Date

07 January 2017 - 7 August 2017

Funder and Funding Amount



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