Breaking Down Powers Imbalances in Global Mental Health: Understanding the Value of Local Knowledge

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From Mad in America: A team of researchers from around the world has said that we need a new approach in Global Mental Health (GMH) based on the idea of ‘mutuality’ – doing and learning things together. Global Mental Health is the movement where some powerful countries such as the US, UK, Canada, and parts of Europe are exporting their ideas of mental health and mental disorder to other countries.

Many experts over the years have criticized this one-sided flow of influence. Such a flow makes it seem that countries in the Global South are helpless and have no understanding, intelligence, and strength to deal with their own issues. Similarly, the authors of this article believe that the current way of looking at mental health around the world has faults and needs to change.

The team, led by Dörte Bemme from King’s College London, includes 39 researchers from 24 countries. They want to shift the focus from viewing mental health problems as a shortfall, to embracing strengths. Their focus is on exchanging information and knowledge (not just importing) and recognizing the value of traditional practices from different cultures.

One of the world’s most respected scientific journals, Lancet Psychiatry, recently admitted that the current global mental health approach has problems. This movement, which looks good and helpful on the outside, yet again forces poorer countries into doing things considered correct by the richer countries. In other words, the same power imbalance that has existed because of colonization is being repeated, but more quietly.

Instead, the authors of this article say that the world must recognize expertise from specific social, cultural, and economic backgrounds rather than assuming the world is a ‘blank slate’ for Western medicine to fill.

For example, between the Global North and South, there is unequal distribution of money, funding, authority to publish etc. The work and writing of people from the Global North are valued more. Often language barriers of English can stop many good researchers from getting publication in prestigious journals.

Currently, only “medical professionals” are considered qualified to be proper mental healthcare experts. This ignores people with valuable knowledge of their own culture’s healthcare practices. This can be harmful, particularly for communities in the Global South.

‘Mutuality’ means sharing knowledge and power equally. The researchers want to build good relationships and learn from each other. The researchers worked in different groups, studying different aspects of mental health. They found that traditional ways of healing and community support can be very important.

The researchers decided to learn about differing aspects of Global Mental Health in the Global South. For example, they focused on the role and importance of informal care systems and family support networks which are very strong in countries like Ghana, India, Palestine etc.

Despite the challenges, the project was a big step forward. It showed that we can work together to make mental health research better and fairer. We need to listen to each other and learn from different cultures to help people all over the world.

This article originally appeared in Mad in America and can be read here.

This is an AI generated version shortened and edited for a South Asian audience.


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