Global mental health and its discontents: an inquiry into the making of global and local scale

Transcult Psychiatry. 2014 Dec;51(6):850-74. doi: 10.1177/1363461514539830. Epub 2014 Jun 30.


Global Mental Health's (GMH) proposition to "scale up" evidence-based mental health care worldwide has sparked a heated debate among transcultural psychiatrists, anthropologists, and GMH proponents; a debate characterized by the polarization of "global" and "local" approaches to the treatment of mental health problems. This article highlights the institutional infrastructures and underlying conceptual assumptions that are invested in the production of the "global" and the "local" as distinct, and seemingly incommensurable, scales. It traces how the conception of mental health as a "global" problem became possible through the emergence of Global Health, the population health metric DALY, and the rise of evidence-based medicine. GMH also advanced a moral argument to act globally emphasizing the notion of humanity grounded in a shared biology and the universality of human rights. However, despite the frequent criticism of GMH promoting the "bio"-medical model, we argue that novel logics have emerged which may be more important for establishing global applicability than arguments made in the name of "nature": the procedural standardization of evidence and the simplification of psychiatric expertise. Critical scholars, on the other hand, argue against GMH in the name of the "local"; a trope that underlines specificity, alterity, and resistance against global claims. These critics draw on the notions of "culture," "colonialism," the "social," and "community" to argue that mental health knowledge is locally contingent. Yet, paying attention to the divergent ways in which both sides conceptualize the "social" and "community" may point to productive spaces for an analysis of GMH beyond the "global/local" divide.

Keywords: Community; global mental health; global/local dichotomy; scale-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture*
  • Evidence-Based Practice*
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health*