Global Mental Health: “Hidden Pictures”

In the words of Ethan Watters in his book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche (2010), “We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.” And this is not a good thing.

An excerpt from the opening of Crazy Like Us shows some of the significant ways, in addition to the American-bred DSM‘s far-ranging influence, in which the U.S. has been inappropriately viewed or has functioned as “the world’s therapist”:

American researchers and organizations run the premier scholarly journals and host top conferences in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Western universities train the world’s most influential clinicians and academics. Western drug companies dole out the funds for research and spend billions marketing medications for mental illnesses. Western-trained traumatologists rush in wherever war or natural disasters strike to deliver ‘psychological first aid,’ bringing with them their assumptions about how the mind becomes broken and how it is best healed.

Publishers Weekly notes the author’s argument that Americans’ way of doing psych business often doesn’t translate well to other cultures in various different lands: “…Western treatments, from experimental, unproven drugs to talk therapy, have clashed with local customs, understandings and religions.”

The documentary Hidden Pictures: A Personal Journey Into Global Mental Health, created by physician and mental health advocate Delaney Ruston, apparently was the first of its type to address global mental health.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) indicates that Hidden Pictures “looks at individuals and families affected by mental illness in Africa, China, France, India and the United States. Stigma and the need for greater access to treatment and care are major themes, framed against colorful, emotionally powerful backgrounds.”

And NAMI offers some pertinent statistics: “Approximately 450 million people live with mental illness worldwide. About 800,000 die from suicide, mostly in low and middle income countries—where as many as 85 percent of people living with severe mental illness receive no treatment. In high income countries, the figure is as high as 65 percent. Global spending on mental health is less than two dollars per year.”

In an interview with Real Change News, Ruston addresses such global issues as the lack of options for receiving adequate mental health care, the lack of mental health advocacy organizations, the importance of housing availability, and the need for mental health education in schools.

Her closing words: “Indeed, one of my key take-home points from making ‘Hidden Pictures’ is that, unlike the myth that our experiences globally are too diverse to understand and help, in fact, our experiences at the very core are much more similar than different, and global solutions are possible.”

A preview is available below:

Marvin Swartz, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine: “The written word often fails to convey the particular poignancy of people’s lives. Delaney Ruston’s masterfully told stories of individuals and families struggling with mental illness across the world, conveys a profound and visceral appreciation of the myriad effects of such illnesses. Hidden Pictures makes the story of the global burden of mental illness deeply personal and hauntingly memorable.”

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