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Global Mental Health

Reading the MAT archive: Global Mental Health  

Ian Harper and Cristina Moreno Lozano 


To coincide with the Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA) conference on Pluralising Global Mental Health ( MAT hereby wishes to bring to your attention a range of articles from our archives which we think are relevant to the themes of the conference.  

As stated in the call for papers for the conference, “global mental health is partly defined by its nebulous boundaries – as a movement, an academic concern, a means for generating global concern, and to attract investment. As an academic field, GMH has porous boundaries. It traverses multiple disciplines, tracing back to developments in cross-cultural psychiatry and medical anthropology; but being advanced by developments in epidemiology, implementation sciences and public health, and incorporation into development interventions”. The publications highlighted here engage across these nebulous boundaries, cutting across this conference’s major concerns; care, crises and critique. Grounded in rich ethnographic writing, they nonetheless testify to the need for sympathetic cross-disciplinary cooperation, in order to challenge a too narrow conceptualisation or medicalisation of ideas of the mind and mental health globally. The publications in point are spread across a diverse geographical range, with articles written about the UK and US being as relevant to the theme as other regions of the globe, thereby unsettling the uncomfortable slide of the meaning of ‘global’ to become the so-called Global South as the authentic place for thinking about global mental health. We are sure that you will draw much more from the diversity of these writings and reflections, as you attend the conference.  

Turning to the publications in the MAT archives themselves: Orkideh Behrouzan, one of our keynote speakers on the conference round table “What is Global Health” edited a Special Section of the journal in 2015 entitled “Beyond Trauma”. Together the pieces in this collection –including original articles (Dewachi 2015; Olszewska 2015; Behrouzan 2015), reflexive think pieces (Das 2015; Kienzler and Amro 2015), and special pieces (Fischer 2015; Leaning 2015; Behrouzan 2015)– challenge our thinking around psychosocial models of intervention, humanitarian reason, dominant narratives of the Middle East, war and its mental health impact, and beyond. These are best read together and showcase the value of ethnographically and theoretically rich writing in developing broad understandings beyond the ubiquity of trauma narratives.  

Another series of articles that read well together is a Special Section edited by Bhrigupati Singh focusing on a collective reading of Veena Das’ Afflictions; Health, Disease, Poverty (2015). In this richly textured book on Delhi, Das locates the neighbourhood and the everyday as the focus of ethnographic enquiry into wellbeing and ill health. In this collection, Rechtman, another of the conference keynote speakers, extols its value for his own engagement with the Cambodian genocide (Rechtman 2017); and the psychiatrists responding to Singh’s call to read Das’s text, with their sympathetic interpretations, point to the need for interdisciplinary conversations amongst those of us involved in Global Mental Health (see Singh 2017; Singh and Deb 2017; Sood and Gupta 2017; Singh 2017). 

Other pieces in the MAT archives focus on particular conditions, incisively asking us to expand our engagement beyond biomedically defined terms. From recent engagements with the lived understanding of the neurodiversity of autism spectrum disorder (Belek 2020; Lo Bosco 2021); to challenging the medicalisation of “Alzheimer’s disease” (Cloos 2017) and dementia (Jeong 2020); and the experience of living with anorexia nervosa (Eli 2014; Lavis 2016). Each author, in their own way, pushes at the boundaries of our medical diagnostic certainties. Others draw attention to the inseparability of physical and mental health related conditions, for example when considering HIV (Datta 2016); and the impact of structural inequalities on depression and its syndemic relationships (Lerman 2018). A further set of articles starts not with the allopathic medical terms but local expressions of experience, and how these interact with the psy-sciences. This includes articles on Hikikomori (or social withdrawal) in Japan (Rubinstein and Sakakibara 2020); spirit possession in Egypt (Vinea 2018); and distributed conceptions of selfhood in relation to suicide in Namibia (Boulton 2020). Together these texts provide food for thought as to how the rapidly expanding global mental health programmes might be received and challenged in different places.  

Finally, we highlight pieces that focus on the importance of understanding bureaucracies, and of infrastructures of development and humanitarian aid through which mental health interventions are delivered. From the politics and history of humanitarian psychiatric intervention in Lebanon (Moghneih 2021); to the interaction between the law, psychiatric institutions and families in China (Ma 2020); how documents mediate the relationship between trainee therapists and migrants in France (Ansari 2022); the specific cultural translations of programmatic interventions in Nepal (Chase 2021); the effects of the “friction” of poorly integrated disciplinary ideas of care addressing the mental health of trafficked individuals (Lazzarino 2020); how programmes aimed at managing addiction in the US produce forms of ideological blindness (Christensen 2017); the affective economies of volunteers working in shelters for migrants in Mexico (Doering-White 2022); the impact of racial categorisations in mental health services in the UK (Brenman 2019) or  the effects of cuts to early intervention strategies in the mental health of children in the UK (Maggio 2017). In sum, these pieces point to the importance of understanding how our interventions and research are always mediated through political and bureaucratic entanglements, revealing the importance of better and contextualised understanding of these processes and practices.  

To those attending the EdCMA Biennial Conference this week, we welcome you to the conference, and for our wider audience, we wish you happy reading! 



Das, Veena. 2015. Affliction: Health, Disease, Poverty. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.  


Global Mental Health Collection  

Ansari, David. 2022. ‘Paper Patients: When Documents Stand in for Patients’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 9 (1): 1–29. 

Behrouzan, Orkideh. 2015a. ‘Beyond ‘trauma’: Notes on Mental Health in the Middle East’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (3): 1–6. 

Behrouzan, Orkideh. 2015b. ‘Medicalization as a Way of Life’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (3): 40–60. 

Belek, Ben. 2020. ‘Autism as Heredity, Autism as Heritage: The Movement of Autism Back and Forth through Time’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 7 (1): 167–75. 

Lo Bosco, Maria Concetta. 2021. ‘Autism ‘Super Mums’: Affectivity as a Political Capital in Special Mothering and Autism Advocacy’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 8 (1): 1–25. 

Boulton, Jack. 2020. ‘Ongame Molwashoka Otse: Reflections on Suicide from Swakopmund, Namibia’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 7 (1): 176–87. 

Brenman, Natassia F. 2019. ‘A Composite Case: Thinking with ‘BME’ Categories in UK Mental Health Care’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 6 (4): 291–300. 

Chase, Liana E. 2021. ‘Psychosocialization in Nepal: Notes on Translation from the Frontlines of Global Mental Health’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 8 (1): 1–30. 

Christensen, Paul. 2017. ‘The Program Is Perfect: Narcotics Anonymous and the Managing of the American Addict’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 4 (5): 23–45. 

Cloos, Patrick. 2017. ‘Is There a Pathological Way of Ageing?’ Medicine Anthropology Theory 4 (2): 60–9. 

Das, Veena. 2015. ‘Beyond Trauma, beyond Humanitarianism, beyond Empathy: A Commentary’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (3): 105–12. 

Datta, Gaurav. 2016. ‘The Lives of Terminally Ill People with Neuropsychiatric Complications of AIDS’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 3 (3): 170–78. 

Doering-White, John. 2022. ‘Shelter Vision: Compassion, Fear, and Learning to (Not) See Trauma along the Migrant Trail through Mexico’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 9 (1): 1–27. 

Eli, Karin. 2014. ‘An Embodied Belonging’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 1 (1): 53–80. 

Fischer, Michael M. J. 2015. ‘Recoiling from War Again’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (3): 7–29. 

Jeong, Jong-min. 2020. ‘Rethinking Repetition in Dementia through a Cartographic Ethnography of Subjectivity’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 7 (1): 1–23. 

Kienzler, Hanna, and Zeina Amro. 2015. ‘“Unknowing” and Mental Health System Reform in Palestine’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (3); 113–27. 

Lavis, Anna. 2016. ‘A Desire for Anorexia’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 3 (1): 68–76. 

Lazzarino, Runa. 2020. ‘“PTSD or Lack of Love?” For Radical Interdisciplinarity in Global Trafficking Aftercare’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 7 (2): 230–46. 

Leaning, Jennifer. 2015. ‘Understanding War Trauma: The Ecology of Loss, the Prison of Isolation, the Role of the Outsider’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (3): 309. 

Lerman, Shir. 2018. ‘The Syndemogenesis of Depression: Concepts and Examples’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 5 (4): 56–85. 

Ma, Zhiying. 2020. ‘Promises and Perils of Guan: Mental Healthcare and the Rise of Biopolitical Paternalism in Contemporary China’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 7 (2): 150–74. 

Maggio, Rodolfo. 2017. ‘The Moral Economy of Early Intervention: Mothers, Children, and the Impact of Austerity on Perinatal Mental Health’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 4 (3): 53–74. 

Moghnieh, Lamia Mounir. 2021. ‘Infrastructures of Suffering: Trauma, Sumud and the Politics of Violence and Aid in Lebanon’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 8 (1): 1–26. 

Motta-Ochoa, Rossio. 2018. ‘Habit or Addiction? Collaboration and Misunderstandings in International Debates about Coca-Leaf Chewing’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 5 (2): 52–5. 

Olszewska, Zuzanna. 2015. ‘The Poet’s Melancholy: Depression, Structures of Feeling, and Creativity among Afghan Refugees in Iran’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (3): 83–104. 

Rechtman, Richard. 2017. ‘From an Ethnography of the Everyday to Writing Echoes of Suffering’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 4 (3): 130–42. 

Rubinstein, Ellen B., and Rae V. Sakakibara. 2020. ‘Diagnosing Hikikomori: Social Withdrawal in Contemporary Japan’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 7 (2): 58–81. 

Selfridge, Marion. 2022. ‘“Something Is Not Okay”: Bodily Expressions of Grief for Street-Involved Youth’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 9 (2): 1–18. 

Singh, Bhrigupati. 2017. ‘An Uncritical Encounter between Anthropology and Psychiatry’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 4 (3): 153–65 

Singh, Shalini. 2017. ‘Illness Narratives of Substance Users from Urban India’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 4 (3): 173–83. 

Sood, Mamta, and Prashant Gupta. 2017. ‘Commentary on “Mental Illness, Psychiatric Institutions, and the Singularity of Lives”’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 4 (3): 184–90. 

Vinea, Ana. 2018. ‘An Emergent Affliction in Today’s Egypt: Islamic Healing, the Psy Sciences, and What Lies in-Between’. Medicine Anthropology Theory 5 (1): 50–77.