Ethnographic perspectives on global mental health

Sumeet Jain*, David M. R. Orr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review


The field of Global Mental Health (GMH) aims to influence mental health policy and practice worldwide, with a focus on human rights and access to care. There have been important achievements, but GMH has also been the focus of scholarly controversies arising from political, cultural, and pragmatic critiques. These debates have become increasingly polarized, giving rise to a need for more dialogue and experience-near research to inform theorizing. Ethnography has much to offer in this respect. This paper frames and introduces five articles in this issue of Transcultural Psychiatry that illustrate the role of ethnographic methods in understanding the effects and implications of the field of global mental health on mental health policy and practice. The papers include ethnographies from South Africa, India, and Tonga that show the potential for ethnographic evidence to inform GMH projects. These studies provide nuanced conceptualizations of GMH's varied manifestations across different settings, the diverse ways that GMH's achievements can be evaluated, and the connections that can be drawn between locally observed experiences and wider historical, political, and social phenomena. Ethnography can provide a basis for constructive dialogue between those engaged in developing and implementing GMH interventions and those critical of some of its approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-695
Number of pages11
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • cultural psychiatry
  • ethnography
  • evidence
  • global mental health
  • research methods
  • knowledge

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