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Global Mental Health Research

Douglas Hospital Research Centre

The Global Mental Health Research initiative was created in 2013 and is currently led by Dr. Duncan Pedersen, Associate Scientific Director – International Programs, based at the Douglas Hospital Research Centre.

Global mental health is a relatively new and evolving construct. Though there is some divergence as to what should be the global mental health research agenda composition, who should define it and how should be made operational, what seems to have gained consensus is the need to move beyond understanding global mental health as a simple listing of problems or disease categories and its worldwide frequency distribution.

A broader view leads us to acknowledge that our most serious contemporary problems –including mental health – are an intricate part of globalization and the global crisis: global warming, resource depletion, ecosystem degradation, poverty and social inequalities, conflict and war, are inherent basic cultural patterns of our now global-scale civilization. It is the nature and global scope of this cluster of contemporary problems what is most likely the ultimate web of causes leading to the construction (and apparent escalation) of mental disorders and is powerfully shaping the global mental health research agenda aiming at global action.

The main strategy used by the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health report (2008) was to link science with and ethical and moral argument aimed to induce global action. There are at least two most important features of the CSDH final report that need to be highlighted. First, the report presents a systematic analysis of the distal and proximate social causes of ill-health from a social epidemiological perspective, and second, its analysis is grounded in the ethics of global justice.

The report has put forward a scientific interpretation of the social origins of health and illness, moving away from the conventional epidemiology model which focuses on individual level determinants, such as individual characteristics (age, sex, education, etc.), exposure to harmful agents, and genetic or molecular factors, as explanations of disease occurrence and poor health outcomes. In short, we are now moving toward a paradigm shift laying the ground for the emergence and development of a bio-psycho-social approach to global health as a genuine domain of enquire and practice.