OPHI Research Officer gives seminar and launches book on global mental health

OPHI Research Officer China Mills was at Manchester University last week to give a seminar on ‘“Maps that precede the territory”: Simulacra and the global ‘reality’ of mental health’.

The seminar, given at the School of Environment, Education and Development on 25 February 2014, preceded a launch for Mills’ book, Decolonizing Global Mental Health‘, which was published recently by Routledge.

Mills’ talk examined how ‘mental illness’ is made a reality in countries of the global South, via a particular focus on India, through the mapping of prevalence of ‘mental illness’ globally, and through the everyday work of non-governmental organisations. It explored how these maps, as part of the move to visualise ‘data’, divert our attention from who made the map, from where that data comes from, from whose worldview is at the centre of the map, and from what knowledge lies at the edges.

Mills, whose work with OPHI is focused on Social Connectedness and Isolation, part of the Missing Dimensions programme, explored how this mapping entangles with the mapping of other hemispheres, in the ever hopeful search for ‘mental illness’ inside brains, and how the trope of the brain enables psychiatry to embark on a biosocial journey across geographical borders, deep inside populations of the global South.

‘As diagnostic tools developed in the global North are transposed onto countries of the global South, other maps could be drawn, of the erasures of ‘other’ and local ways of knowing, and the projections, inscriptions and encodings of local idioms and socio-economic contexts in which distress is embedded, into psychiatric diagnoses of ‘illness’ treatable by drugs,’ Mills said.

‘Like the maps these tools are used to create, I suggest they produce a chemical reality for the pharmaceutically ‘untapped markets’ of the global South.’

Mills discussed her presentation with Suman Fernando, Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities, London Metropolitan University, and formerly Senior Lecturer in Mental Health, European Centre for Migration & Social Care (MASC), University of Kent, and Consultant Psychiatrist, Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, Middlesex.