Pluralizing Global Mental Health: Care, crisis, and critique
The 2022 Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology biennial conference explores global mental health, as a movement, an institution, and a set of concepts. Globally, mental health is said to be in crisis and in urgent need of action. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the language of crisis, with the pandemic fallout seen to cause both a “tsunami” of mental health problems as well as fears of even less funding being devoted to mental health than before. The 2022 EdCMA conference invites contributions from across the social, health and behavioural sciences that explore global mental health care, its alleged crisis and its critiques.
The development of global mental health as an area for the attention of researchers, policy makers and implementers has gained momentum and become a sustained focus globally. This can be traced to several interlinking factors: concerns with the ‘disability burden’ of mental health disorders; the emergence of efforts to build an evidence base; a focus on human rights for people with psychosocial disabilities; political advocacy for greater resources; and attempts to ‘scale up’ mental health initiatives across the globe, amongst others.
In this conference, we open up GMH to greater scrutiny. Global mental health is partly defined by its nebulous boundaries – as a movement, an academic concern, a means for generating global concern, and to attract investment. As an academic field, GMH has porous boundaries. It traverses multiple disciplines, tracing back to developments in cross-cultural psychiatry and medical anthropology; but being advanced by developments in epidemiology, implementation sciences and public health, and incorporation into development interventions.
As a field of study, or series of concerns, then, GMH is open to different disciplinary interventions. Amongst these, medical anthropology plays a central role – studying its emergence as a field; opening new understandings around familial, community and institutional practices of care; foregrounding local concerns and advocating for contextually relevant mental health systems and modes of amelioration; and offering critique of the very idea of the notion of GMH as such.
Similarly, perspectives from transcultural psychiatry, critical psychiatry, mad studies, and other social science and practice-based disciplines (e.g. psychology, psychiatry, nursing, social work) have long questioned the global validity of key psychiatric and mental health conceptions of ‘distress’ and interventions. In sum, the current landscape of GMH gives rise to a non-exhaustive set of questions that we invite scholars to reflect upon at the conference:
- What do we mean by “global” in GMH?
- What are the implications, intellectual and practical, of evoking the notion of crisis along mental health?
- What is the range of operation of GMH initiatives – research, policy programmes, delivery of mental health care?
- How has the Covid pandemic impacted global mental health strategies, if at all?
- How is ‘evidence’ generated – and what happens in its creation, use, deployment, and contestation?
- What are the relationships between care and expertise?
- What does it mean in practice to collaborate across disciplines to investigate issues in GMH? What are the issues of disciplinary power within research practice (fieldwork, writing) and collaboration?
- How are problems pertaining to mental health posed in the arts? How does artistic expression and performance relate to amelioration and experience in relation to GMH?
- How might we decolonise GMH as an intellectual project and global, hegemonic intervention?
We welcome contributions from diverse disciplines, including the arts, that critically engage with and advance our understandings of mental health across social conditions and global contexts. Participation from early career researchers and people with lived experience of mental health difficulties is particularly encouraged.
- Dr Orkideh Behrouzan (SOAS)
- Professor Dr Angela Garcia (Stanford)
- Dr Junko Kitanaka (Keio University)
- Dr Shubha Ranganathan (Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad)
- Dr Richard Rechtman (EHESS)