Kennesaw State University dean receives $3.3 million NIH grant to study women empowerment and mental health in Uganda

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jan 24, 2022

Kennesaw State University researcher Monica Swahn has received a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a study that will determine if vocational skills and economic empowerment improves mental health among young women who live in poverty.


This innovative study will provide young women in low-income areas with new job skills, socio- economic strengthening and entrepreneurship skills in Kampala, Uganda. The project, a first of its kind, builds on Swahn’s decade of research in Uganda and will assess the impact of the skills training and how it may improve mental health over time. 

“We are so grateful for this funding. It’s a very exciting opportunity to extend our research and test if this low-cost skills training improves mental health outcomes among young women who face tremendous hardships,” said Swahn, dean of the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services.

The new study continues Swahn’s interdisciplinary research on health risk behaviors and disparities among youth in the U.S. and globally. The NIH award is for $3.3 million over five years.

“If the study shows that vocational training and entrepreneurship skills make a difference in terms of mental health for young women, it is a very viable and low-cost strategy for addressing the unmet mental health needs in Uganda,” Swahn said. The results of the study could be used to advance vocational training and entrepreneurship skills — and by extension improve mental health outcomes — in underserved communities in the United States, she added.

“There should be more opportunities and consideration for vocational and entrepreneurship training, particularly for young women. Even though this kind of training cannot replace mental health services, it can help unemployed women who live in poverty,” Swahn said. “It could be a transformative approach and one that may build on other initiatives for addressing unemployment, skills training and workforce readiness in vulnerable communities.”

The team of 10 co-investigators spans two continents and three universities. It includes Kennesaw State associate professor of psychology Ebony Glover, who contributes her expertise in applied neuroscience to examine stress levels and trauma in the study population. The group also includes two professors from Georgia State University School of Public Health and the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions. Six professors from Makerere University in Kampala round out the group. 

This study also focuses on community engagement and capacity building with Swahn’s long- established community partner, the Uganda Youth Development Link, led by Executive Director Rogers Kasirye. They will conduct the training of the young women in the study.

“I am thrilled with the collaborative approach for this project which builds on the mission of the Wellstar College to serve communities both locally and globally to address mental health disparities,” Swahn said. 

– Dave Shelles
Photos by Jason Getz

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