School of Social and Political Science

Pia Noel

Job Title

PhD student

Photo of Pia


PhD Working title 

Politics of need and care - The work of ‘mental health’ in Nepal.

Abstract (work in progress) 

Saturated by development projects since the 1950s, Nepal has greatly appealed to different international political agendas and moral sensibilities.

National goals are inextricably linked with socio-political ambitions of others and financed with resources from elsewhere. Despite highly contested meanings around the world of ‘mental health’ and ‘mental health care’, in the last couple of decades concerns about the mental health of populations worldwide have heightened within global communities, especially since the launch of the movement for global mental health which calls for ‘scaling up’ mental health services in low and middle income countries.

Mental health goals are now part of global health and development agendas and countries are being monitored to uphold universal human rights standards for persons with disability, including psychosocial disability.

Alongside these increasing global concerns, and after several decades of efforts mostly from NGOs to provide services and expand access to services in Nepal, the country saw an unprecedented attention to mental health and psychosocial needs and an influx of resources going into mental health and psychosocial support after the 2015 earthquakes.

In the aftermath, the disaster was touted by local and international mental health professionals and advocates as an opportunity to strengthen the national mental health system.

But what is ‘mental health’ in Nepal, and to what extent is it a national object of care? I did 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork two years post-earthquake (from July 2017- September 2018) in Kathmandu, where a host of public, private, and nongovernmental actors and institutions with a stake in ‘mental health’ co-exist, compete and coalesce.

My thesis explores the synergies and barriers the conceptual, temporal and institutional plural (and entangled) field create for each other as well as what is generated through the work of mental health: what social and material transformations are enabled by the involvement of mental health projects? What is at stake in providing, receiving, needing, researching, and endorsing mental health work in modern Nepal? 



Wellcome Trust Society & Ethics Doctoral Studentship


2016 – present PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh

2015 – 2016     MSc in Global Mental Health, University of Glasgow                      

2009 – 2013     MA Psychology & Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews

Research interests

Research interests


Susanty, D., Noel, P., Sabeh, M. S., & Jahoda, A. (2020). Benefits and cultural adaptations of psychosocial interventions for parents and their children with intellectual disabilities in low‐and middle‐income countries: A systematic review. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities.

Cork, C., White, R. G., Noel, P., & Bergin, N. (2018). Randomized Controlled Trials of Interventions Addressing Intimate Partner Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review. Trauma, Violence & Abuse.

Noel, P., Cork, C., & White, R. G. (2018). Social capital and mental health in post-disaster/conflict contexts: a systematic review. Disaster medicine and public health preparedness, 1-12.

Noel, P. (2018) [Review of the book The Patient Multiple: An Ethnography of Healthcare and Decision-making in BhutanJonathan Taee, New York: Berghahn Press, 2017, 220 pp.] Medical Anthropology Quarterly DOI: 10.1111/maq.12425

Babalola, E., Noel, P., & White, R. (2017). The biopsychosocial approach and global mental health: Synergies and opportunities. Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry33(4), 291.

Conference Presentations

Noel, P. (2015). Learning from a local response to mental distress in urban Nepal to inform policy and improve practice. Presented at the European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference “Anthropology and Global Health: interrogating theory, policy and practice”. 

Edinburgh Center for Medical Anthropology 

Part of EdCMA (Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology)

Works within