Although some claim that The Movement for Global Mental Health (MGMH) is, essentially, the brainchild of the Western medical framework, a closer look at the work being done under the MGMH banner would prove contrary. I know that less powerful and low income countries and their citizenry are making important strides to define the problems and solutions related to mental health because of the work of the Movement.
The MGMH is the first cross-continental effort to bring diverse expertise, resources and perspectives on to one platform with a common goal of addressing mental health both at the global and local level. Their representation of a global movement, rather than western brainchild, is particularly evident in the recent shift of the global secretariat of the movement from the West (Sydney, Australia) to New Delhi, India, as well as the transfer of the movement’s leadership from medical professionals to those with expertise in social and community based fields. These changes are working to accommodate the diverse concerns of civil society groups regarding the rights of the persons with psychosocial disability and mental health problems.
Contrary to traditional approaches of addressing mental health, in which ‘professionals’ thrust ‘treatment’ onto ‘patients’, the MGMH promotes the role of people with psychosocial disabilities and mental health problems as equal partners in every endeavor from the health care setting, to the community and in efforts to promote human rights, fighting stigma and discriminations. Also, the MGMH advocates greater human rights along with affordable and accessible mental health care for all by putting greater emphasis on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The MGMH believes in building an international civil society that can speak out and stand for the cause, and mobilise direct actions in order to overcome mental health challenges ranging from stigma, inequitable health services, social discrimination and others. This international community looks like a consolidated effort among the various stakeholder and creative partnerships among stakeholders around the world.
There are already some effective examples of partnership in promoting human rights and mental health. For example, the EMPOWER project brought together civil society groups representing all kinds of professionals working in the fields of medicine, research and human rights and together they worked not only to generate a new knowledge, but have set an example to advocate mental health in low and middle-income countries.
Towards creating a leadership community across the globe, the movement offers training and short courses like the Leadership in Mental Health, which is an annual two-week leadership course in mental health for all kinds of people interested and affected by mental health issues. The tutors in the course range from activists to researchers and psychosocial disabilities.
However, the future of MGMH is not straightforward. The divide among the stakeholders in the mental health community — some of whom prioritize the human rights elements over the medical elements and vice versa — is the greatest obstacle to fulfilling the goals of the movement.
The tussle over where the emphasis needs to be within the mental health domain has been at the centre of this divide. In fact, there is a misconstrued understanding among some stakeholders– largely non-professional groups– that the MGMH is a banner through which the medical model of psychiatry and mental health is being promoted. On the other hand, many professional groups believe that the non-professional activists and their associated movements in the realm of mental health reject the very idea of the possibilities of modern medicine in addressing mental health concerns. Some individuals and opinion makers have even labeled the MGMH as a neo-colonial project.
But these polarized views are untrue to the genuine efforts and initiatives being made across the board — by professionals and activists, and civil society groups in the field. That’s why although the major barrier for the Movement is this divide among stakeholders, I believe that these initial days of the Movement’s efforts can in fact be used to create a sense of belonging among all of those concerned. We can also hammer out the differences –among professionals, activists, researchers and psychosocial disability community – in order to come to a consensus which would benefit the hundreds of thousands of people living with mental health problems and psychosocial disability globally today.
There is no doubt in my mind that all groups are working tirelessly to find sustainable ways through which the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups in the world can be met –medically, socially, politically and economically. While making an effort to find solution, it is urgent among stakeholders to understand each other’s work and promote respect for each other.
(With support from Bidushi Dhungel)