Culture, Politics and Global Mental Health
Tribe, R. 2014. Culture, Politics and Global Mental Health. Disability and the Global South. 1 (2), pp. 251-265.
This paper critically examines some of the assumptions and politics which underlie the global mental health (GMH) movement; and explores the issue of cultural awareness within western psychiatric thinking and practice. The way distress is labelled has a range of consequences for the individual, their family and society, as well as those who may control or negotiate the descriptors used, the actions taken as a result of these and the resources subsequently allocated. This paper will examine if these are the most useful principles, and if so, who might be the main beneficiaries of these. The importance of context, international, national and health politics, in addition to wealth and power differentials cannot be ignored in the way that the global mental health debate is constructed. Diagnostic classification systems, such as the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), are not neutral documents as is frequently assumed but carry a range of assumptions and represent a number of interest groups. Different cultural constructions, explanatory health beliefs, idioms and local ways of dealing with distress often appear to be seen as additional layers of meaning within the current debate, rather than as the central organising concepts they are for many people. Yet the transfer of western psychiatric ideas and the uncritical generalisation of them around the world (even if made with the best of intentions) can undermine the rich traditions and cultural heritage of many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and could be viewed as a form of neo-colonialism. There are many angles to this debate, including the use of language and the fact that some cultures have concepts and long traditions around ‘mental health’ which are different from those used in ‘the west’. The paper will use the diagnostic category Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as an example to illustrate many of the points made.
|culture; politics; global mental health; distress; labelling; power; trauma
|Disability and the Global South
|1 (2), pp. 251-265
|The Critical Institute
|Web address (URL)
|Publication process dates
|05 Nov 2014
|© The Author. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
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