Mental Health Recovery in Different Contexts: Lessons Learned from the Field

Jessica Maria-Violanda Spagnolo

The mental health recovery movement emerged in order to counter the overly biomedical view of mental illness that littered the era before deinstitutionalization (Anthony, 1993). After this era, community-based services for people living with mental illness were strongly encouraged, as illness is not merely the absence of disease, but a state of holistic well-being that goes beyond physicality (WHO, 1948). Therefore, mental health recovery includes ways of “living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even with limitations caused by illness”; as well as finding “new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness” (Anthony, 1993, p. 527).

I have always been interested in understanding how this concept is seen and understood around the world. This post will report on examples of the cultural representation of mental health recovery in local communities where I worked.

Picture 1 (McGill Blog)

Photo 1

At a shelter in a small village in the Caribbean, mental health recovery meant developing new skills by learning how to plant vegetables, pineapple, and flowers, as well as care for chickens. This manual labor encouraged the presence of a daily routine, which can easily falter when one is affected by illness; learning through trial and error, which promotes patience and perseverance; as well as interacting with others, which can often be a limitation caused by illness. Photo 1 shows the chickens that the residents took care of until they were either sold to local community members or were used to feed the residents at the shelter. These same residents highlighted the importance of religion in their lives, which helped them find new meaning after illness. For example, when asked what inspired them, the majority of the residents said “God.” This reality is also apparent when visiting the shelter, as the walls are painted with religious images and symbols by local artists (Photo 2).

Picture 2 (McGill Blog)

Photo 2

In a small village in Central America, where many refugees sought protection after experiencing hardships in another country, often showing signs of post-traumatic stress, mental health recovery was seen through the development of new social ties. Arriving as strangers, women leaned on each other for support as well as hope for the future. Their children, through play, would do the same (Picture 3).

Picture 3 (McGill Blog)

Photo 3

The beauty of the mental health recovery movement is that it ensures the focus is not solely on mental disorders or symptoms. Not once during my work in these 2 communities did the residents mention the word “sick” or “ill,” but spoke about what was important in their own, unique, personal recovery journey from illness: developing new skills; generating hope for the future, creating social support and networks. These things are what innately make us human, and are anchored in what can help people living with any type of illness enjoy a satisfying and fulfilling life, despite symptoms.

 

Jessica Spagnolo is a Doctorate Candidate at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal. Her research focuses on building system capacity for the integration of mental health at the level of primary care in Tunisia. Jessica is funded by les Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS) and MITACS Globalink. Jessica holds a Bachelor and a Masters of Social Work from McGill University.

Global Mental Health Research for Sustainable Development

Sakiko Yamaguchi

The WHO’s global mental health action plan 2013-2020 relies on evidence-based practices. As such, today’s global mental health research is largely focused on the “evidence” to deliver effective mental health interventions in low- and middle-income countries. Although I have no intention to question the need and importance of scientific evidence, we hardly hear about the “sustainability” of evidence-based practice in global mental health despite the fact that “sustainable development” has been a core concept shaping the development agenda since the 1988 Bruntland Commission. Now that mental health and well-being are included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, I would like to explore a question: “How can researchers link global mental health research with sustainable development?”

Sakiko leading a planning workshop in Sudan.

Sakiko leading a planning workshop for a health project in Sudan.

One answer may be found in implementation science, which provides tools and approaches to integrate evidence into health policy and practices (De Silva & Ryan, 2016). An intervention that is found to be effective in the idealized conditions of a research setting may meet a wide range of barriers in a real world context. The exclusive focus on evidence may divert our attention from the role of culture in a specific setting. In this context, global mental health research should find an answer of not only “what works” but also “how it works” by holistically examining the behavioural, organizational, economic, socio-cultural, and political dimensions of the context where evidence is implemented. Furthermore, researchers have the important role and responsibility to share pertinent individual knowledge available with those at the organizational, community, and society levels (Landry, Amara, Pablos-Mendes, Shademani, & Gold, 2006).

The exclusive focus on evidence may divert our attention from the role of culture in a specific setting.

 

While innovative instruments for knowledge sharing still seem lacking, my past work experience in international development reminds me of the notion of “ownership.” With an understanding that the sustainability of the project outcome results from the beneficial output shared among project participants, development partners generally make great efforts to foster a sense of ownership during the project implementation. In global mental health, community-based participatory research may be one possible approach to generate ownership by addressing the unequal power distribution between researchers and community people.

My initial question is still open for discussion. Meanwhile, the consideration of sustainability and ownership in global mental health research may shed light on the ethical aspects of our research process and application of knowledge.

 

About the Author:

Sakiko Yamaguchi is in the 2nd year of her PhD program in Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry at McGill. After working on government projects for social development in low- and middle-income countries, including post-conflict countries (Peru, Afghanistan, Sudan), she decided to pursue her PhD to better understand the long-term impact of violent conflict on mental health, and explore how international community can respond to the unmet needs of the affected people. She is currently in Ayacucho, Peru for her research project on alcohol misuse among the Andean highland population, who is still suffering from the consequence of political violence and the daily hardships rooted in poverty and socio-economic inequality.

 

The new McGill Global Mental Health Program was launched 30 May 2016. Like them on Facebook and learn more here.

 

 

References

De Silva, M. J., & Ryan, G. (2016). Global mental health in 2015: 95% implementation. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(1), 15-17.

Landry, R., Amara, N., Pablos-Mendes, A., Shademani, R., & Gold, I. (2006). The knowledge-value chain: a conceptual framework for knowledge translation in health. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(8), 597-602.

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