The Cultural Politics of Mental Illness: Toward a Rights-Based Approach to Global Mental Health

(16 October 2020)

Cosgrove, L., Morrill, Z., Karter, J.M., Valdes, E., Cheng, C. Community Ment Health J 57, 3-9 (2021)

The movement for global mental health (MGMH) has raised awareness about the paucity of mental health services, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. In response, policies and programs have been developed by the World Health Organization and by the Lancet Commission on global mental health, among other organizations. These policy initiatives and programs, while recognizing the importance of being responsive to local needs and culture, are based on Western biomedical conceptualizations of emotional distress. In the paper, we discuss how a rights-based approach can promote the voice and participation of people with lived experience into the MGMH. We argue that a human rights framework can be enhanced by incorporating the conceptual approaches of critical inquiry and community mental health. We also discuss how rights-based approaches and service-user activism can productively reconfigure Western psychiatric conceptualizations of distress and provide both a moral and empirical justification for a paradigm shift within the MGMH. Read more