Dr Akin Ojagbemi from University of Ibadan, Nigeria, started his fellowship in 2017, undertaking a placement at the Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain.

Akin’s research aims to develop and expand access to mental health services for older adults living in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.

“Nigeria has one of the highest rates of depression in Africa, and the problem is even more stark in older adults who face a unique set of challenges, including social isolation, loneliness, and association with other health disorders. Because of these factors, depression in this group is often more chronic and more severe. Yet very few people have access to treatment that you could describe as adequate,” explains Akin.

“Current WHO guidelines do not have a specific focus on older adults, and this is desperately needed. My research is seeking to fill this gap by developing mental health interventions for depression which are specifically tailored to this group.”

Akin is adapting the WHO’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), and its associated intervention guide, for use in the identification and treatment of depression in later life. A key part of this work is ‘INDIGO’, a research idea Akin developed into a fully formed and successful proposal thanks to the protected time and resources afforded by his AREF fellowship.

INDIGO (‘an Intervention for Depression in Geriatric populations with diagnostic Overlaps’) focuses on psychological and social interventions which help older people to reconnect with their social networks and engage with people in their local area, as well as providing resources for stress management. The project considers co-existing physical health problems, such as hypertension, to ensure that any interventions integrate aspects of both mental and physical health.

“My placement in Madrid gave me access to vast statistical resources, including databases relevant to my research, as well as a wealth of research literature to draw from. I had no access to these things in Nigeria.

“The fellowship is already bearing fruit in terms of collaborations too, with a joint manuscript currently under review in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, and another in the pipeline, collaborating both with my group in Spain and the one here in Nigeria."

AREF has set me on the path to impact by helping me develop the skills and networks required to deliver my research ambitions. My collaborators have worked for many years as members of the WHO’s mental health advisory group, and this continent-spanning partnership will be energised and expanded further thanks to AREF. Longer-term, I am determined to present my findings to policymakers and ultimately to implement better psychological and social interventions for older adults with depression, not just in Nigeria, but also across Africa.