Current efforts in global mental health (GMH) aim to address the inequities in mental health between low-income and high-income countries, as well as vulnerable populations within wealthy nations (e.g., indigenous peoples, refugees, urban poor). The main strategies promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other allies have been focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating evidence-based practices that can be scaled up through task-shifting and other methods to improve access to services or interventions and reduce the global treatment gap for mental disorders. Recent debates on global mental health have raised questions about the goals and consequences of current approaches. Some of these critiques emphasize the difficulties and potential dangers of applying Western categories, concepts, and interventions given the ways that culture shapes illness experience. The concern is that in the urgency to address disparities in global health, interventions that are not locally relevant and culturally consonant will be exported with negative effects including inappropriate diagnoses and interventions, increased stigma, and poor health outcomes. More fundamentally, exclusive attention to mental disorders identified by psychiatric nosologies may shift attention from social structural determinants of health that are among the root causes of global health disparities. This paper addresses these critiques and suggests how the GMH movement can respond through appropriate modes of community-based practice and ongoing research, while continuing to work for greater equity and social justice in access to effective, socially relevant, culturally safe and appropriate mental health care on a global scale.
Keywords: community mental health; culture; global mental health; globalization; political economy; public health; social determinants of health.
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