A few days ago I went to a talk here at Wheaton by a guy who had founded the MINDS foundation which brings mental health services to rural India. Before I attended the talk, it hadn’t occurred to me that mental health could be a global health issue on the same plane as HIV/AIDS or polio. And it looks like I’m not alone in that realization. Aaron Seaman at Somatosphere recently sampled the increasing literature on the global disparity in mental health care.
Interestingly, a lot was being written about the relationship between mental health and globalization. Again, not a problem that would have occurred to me. I generally view globalization as a good thing for international development. Many, many people have been lifted out of poverty and had their lives saved by its force. But it certainly has its downsides. As wealthy and powerful countries, such as the US, begin to spread wealth around the world, so to does our culture, and our ideas about psychology and psychiatry. Too often we forget that different cultures have different views of the mind, and that our model of psychiatry may not be as effective if we scale it up globally. Also of note, globalization is fundamentally an economic force, driven by profit. The fact that many have seen their lives improve is simply of a lucky byproduct. But when it comes to acute human needs, the profit motive is mostly lacking, and byproducts just won’t cut it.