Melanie Abas
  • Phone80341
  • United Kingdom

  • 3478

Personal profile

Research interests (short)

Cultural adaptation and Clinical Trials of scalable interventions for depression and other common mental disorders which can be delivered by non-specialists in low-resource settings.

Research at the interface between mental health and priorities for the global south including women’s health, youth employment and ending the HIV epidemic.

Early intervention to promote remission of depression and anxiety in low-resource settings

HIV and mental health, especially interventions for adherence to medication and self-testing

Equitable research partnerships between the global north and the global south

Research capacity-building

I lead the 'Scalable Global Mental Health Interventions' research team (Scalable@GMH) at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. We collaborate closely with the Friendship Bench through which we have had major policy impact. I am Joint Director of an NIHR Global Health Research Group called African Youth in Mind (total value £2.7m), and Chief Investigator for the TENDAI clinical trial in depression and HIV funded by the US NIMH (total value US$4m).

Biographical details

Professor of Global Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London

Consultant Psychiatrist, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust

Joint Director, NIHR Global Health Research Group on Interventions for Youth with Depression and Anxiety Disorders in African Countries

Co-Chair King’s College London African Regional Network.

Committee Member UK Medical Research Council Applied Global Health Board; Wellcome Trust Populations and Public Health Advisory board. Scientific Advisor, University of Washington, Behavioral Research Center for HIV.

Abas’s early research funded by the MacArthur Foundation was on the social origins of depression in women in Zimbabwe. This was the first to show a common mechanism for the development of depression cross-culturally through the experience of life events involving humiliation and loss and has been highly cited e.g., “uniquely influential in the integration of social experience into the study of disease” (Leon Eisenberg, 2004). She then moved to applying interdisciplinary methods to epidemiological research on measurement of depression, and its treatment, in cross-cultural settings, especially in Zimbabwe and also in Thailand, Moldova, Sri Lanka and among minority groups including vulnerable women migrants in the UK.

Abas now leads the ‘Scalable Global Mental Health Interventions’ (Scalable@GMH) research team, with members from the UK, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, and the United States. The vision of this inclusive international research team is a world where everyone has access to evidence-based treatments for common mental disorders. We want to show the value of integrating mental health and healthy behaviours  into development priorities including women’s health, youth employment, and ending the HIV epidemic. As such, Abas’s Scalable@GMH team focusses on cultural adaptation and clinical trials of contextually appropriate task-shifted interventions for depression and anxiety, especially in low and lower-middle income African countries. Abas’s research aims to understand how such interventions work and what works best for whom. The  team also researches behavioural interventions to improve adherence to HIV medication (TENDAI project), uptake of HIV self-testing and promotion of self-care in pregnancy. The goal is to produce regionally relevant evidence, in equitable partnership with researchers from the global south, which changes policy and ultimately  improves mental and behavioural health for people living in the poorest countries.

Funding for Abas’s research comes from major competitive streams such as the US National Institutes of Health, the UK Medical Research Council and NIHR.

Policy Interface Abas advises  government Ministries of Health in Zimbabwe , Malawi and Ghana on mental health and works with major program implementers including the Friendship Bench, PEPFAR, CDC and OPHID. Abas led a 2022 REF Impact Case Study on the Friendship Bench for KCL, and co-authored one on Human Trafficking in the UK.  She  has spoken in the UK Houses of Parliament on mental health interventions in African countries (2020) and on HIV and mental health (2018).

Capacity building is core to Prof Abas’s work, with a focus on mutual capacity strengthening for early and mid-career researchers from underrepresented groups with a goal of producing  the next generation of diverse mental health leaders. She has worked on African-led capacity building programs since 2010 including being the only UK-based partner for the US-African Medical Education Partnership Initiative across 13 African medical schools 2010 – 2019 . She is KCL partner for the African Mental Health Research Initiative (2016 – 2022; 2023 - 2027) which is led from Zimbabwe as part of the Wellcome Trust’s Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Initiative. 

Public Engagement Abas disseminates her research through multiple media including newspapers (e.g., Newsweek, the Guardian,  Washington Post), radio ( NPR radio, BBC World Service), TV (e.g., CNN news), Twitter @melanieabas and film creative arts programs


Biographical details

Training Abas trained in Medicine at the University of Birmingham and became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians before moving to the Maudsley Hospital, London, to train in Psychiatry. She lived and worked for 2.5 years in Zimbabwe as a trainee psychiatrist, during which time she conducted cross-cultural research on life events and depression in Zimbabwean women. After training in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine she worked in Auckland for three years in Māori and Pacific Island mental health. She joined the Institute of Psychiatry in 2006.

Prizes and Awards include the Denis Hill Research Prize at the Institute of Psychiatry, and a Gold Achievement Award for Health Services Research from The Mental Health Services Conference, Sydney. In 2015 Prof Abas received the King’s Award at King’s College London for Most Significant Contribution to International Collaboration. In 2015 she was listed in the Institute of International Development’s list of 100 women Leaders in Global Health. In 2019 Abas received the Friend of Zimbabwe Award for mental health research from the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards

Career Breaks  

2002 – 2004 career break as carer of sick child.

2005 – 2008 gradual return to 0.60 FTE while I supported my child starting school and applying for a Statement of Additional Educational Needs.

Worked Part-time until 2018

Capacity Building. Abas's work has been characterised by research capacity building. She was a co-principal investigator on a Medical Education Partnership Initiative program, a platform which built capacity across a network of 13 African medical schools, funded by PEPFAR and the NIH. She provides formal research mentorship to heads of department at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences as well as supervising Wellcome Trust fellows and PhD students. She was lead for King's College London of one of the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science programs (AMARI) funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development to build research capacity in African mental health scientists.

Education Innovation Abas co-founded the world’s first Masters in Global Mental Health in 2010 which runs jointly between King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Abas collaborated with African partners and the IoPPN Research Innovation Committee to co-produce the ACES Research Career Development course which has taught ‘soft skills’ to over 100 early career African researchers through the DELTAS-Africa initiative. She is using this experience to stimulate a course for diverse under-represented researchers across KCL.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Medicine, Socio-economic deprivation and outcome of mental disorders, University of Auckland

Award Date: 1 Jan 2004

Epidemiology, Master of Science, Depression and mortality, LSHTM London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Award Date: 1 Jan 1997

Medicine, Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, University of Birmingham

Award Date: 30 Jun 1983


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