Building a Global Response to Transcultural Mental Health

Paul Ballas Health Guide
  • Special Communication: World Federation for Mental Health Conference Transcultural Mental Health in a Changing World: Building a Global Response - October 29 - 31, 2007


    I recently attended this conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota which was organized by The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). This organization is devoted to worldwide advocacy, education, and research on severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. The WFMH has been a part of several events like this one over the last few months. In this blog, I'd like to discuss some of the recent initiatives of this organization, review some of the events it sponsored recently, and list some thoughts I had of the information presented at the conference.

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    The WFMH has had several programs and events for mental health over the last few months. On September 18th the WFMH released a survey on caregivers of people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder. This international survey, entitled "Keeping Care Complete: An International Survey of Family Members and Caregivers of People with Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder" is the first of its kind, and was created in order to better understand the issues caregivers and family members struggle with when helping people with serious mental illness. The WFMH initiated a World Mental Health Day in 1992, which is now observed in over 100 countries on October 10th. The organization distributed thousands of packets of informational materials in several languages, including Chinese, Spanish, French and German.


    The conference in Minneapolis included psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, and other mental health professionals, and had many presentations about public policy, caregiver advocacy, patient advocacy, and educational initiatives. What I found most interesting in this conference is the wide breath of research being done on cultural issues in psychiatry. There were presentations on the treatment of treating Hmong refugees, patients in Australia, and traumatized patients in Israel. There were also lectures about immigration and trauma in Canada and advocacy for mental health at the United Nations.


    I was involved in a break-out session on treating patients in special populations, specifically Haitians, Latinos, and Japanese Youths. I had done part of my training in Osaka, Japan, and I had the opportunity to talk about social isolation in young people in Japan, often associated with the term hikikomori. It was interesting to hear the perspective of other researchers and clinicians who worked in other cultures. Clinicians face many challenges in treating psychiatric disorders, and it is important to consider the cultural background of the person being treated as well as the environment in which treatment is given, as both can potentially impact access of care for patients and how mental illness in general is perceived.


    Trans-cultural psychiatry is becoming an increasingly important topic in American psychiatry. A future blog can look at some of the lessons I learned while working in Japan. In the meantime, I would be interested in receiving your comments and answering your questions about cultural considerations with regards to schizophrenia and other thought disorders.

Published On: November 29, 2007