Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Increasing Presence of Mental Health in Global Health

Over the past fifteen year, the field of global mental health has emerged. International organizations, such as the World Health Organization, have created departments specifically for mental health. Prominent health focused NGOs (e.g. Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders) have expanded their programs to address mental health and now employ numerous mental health workers. There are research centers at universities and hospitals dedicated solely to global mental health. Our partner, U-Tena, has actually put mental health on their agenda for this year. This significant push towards understanding and improving mental health has revealed the significant and prevalence and burden of mental illnesses around the world. The WHO estimates that mental illness account for 15% of the global burden of disease and that approximately 4 to 5 million people have a mental illness. See this recent article on the prevalence and burden of depression for example of what this research looks like: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001547. The poor treatment and human rights abuses of individuals with mental illnesses has also come to light. The famous medical anthropologist, Arthur Kleinmen, wrote that conditions and treatment of individuals with mental illnesses are “a failure of humanity” (his 2009 article on this topic: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)61510-5/fulltext). The field of global mental health, however, does certainly have its critics and there are legitimate concerns about the over use of psychotropic medications and imposition of western models of mental illness. This article titled “The Americanization of Mental Illness has more information on this topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/magazine/10psyche-t.html?pagewanted=all. While debates rage on about the proper ways to address the issue of mental illness globally, it is now clear that there is no health without mental health and that this is an issue anyone interested in global health must confront.

For more information on the field of global mental health check out these videos and articles:

Vikram Patel’s TED Talk “Mental health for all by involving all”: http://www.ted.com/talks/vikram_patel_mental_health_for_all_by_involving_all.html

“Grand challenges in global mental health”: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v475/n7354/full/475027a.html

The Unseen: Mental Illness’s Global Toll”: http://www.cartercenter.org/documents/2407.pdf

- Daniel C.

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