Summary/Report - Santander lectures on Global Mental Health and Cultural Psychiatry.

Public Mental Health
Publication date: 
23 May 2013

Santander lectures on Global Mental Health and Cultural Psychiatry.

Santander lectures on Global Mental Health and Cultural Psychiatry.

Three master-class lectures were delivered by Professor Villasenor-Bayardo on 17th and 25th April and 8th May. These were delivered in collaboration with Careif, an international mental health charity, and the Cultural Consultation Service located within the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, at Queen Mary University of London.

Professor Villasenor-Bayardo, from the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, talked on an epidemic of Kieri, a cultural bound syndrome in Mexico affecting young children and their teacher. This lecture touched on the tensions between local government and health care organisations in responding to perceived threats to cultural heritage and identity, and how safe clinical practice can only be grounded in a rich ethnography and understanding of local indigenous beliefs and practices. Care practices are then humanised and more compassionate and personal rather than structured as technologies to be applied to a passive population.

Professor Villasenor-Bayardo then talked on Latin American Masters of Transcultural Psychiatry giving a philosophical and historical tour of the Latin American landscape, sentiments, intellect, and expertise. Finally, he presented Latin American, and specifically Mexican, concepts of death and dying reflecting how indigenous beliefs and attitudes to death make use of humour to cope with the existential dilemma posed by death. The humour and death concepts seem to   encourage familiarity and ordinary daily conversations in all age groups, including children, so as to promote a relationship with death that helps people to not fear death and to live to the fullest and become more resilient. The audience was particularly inquisitive about routine clinical practice and the level of resourcing for mental health care in Mexico, the role of the NGO sector and protest groups, and the weak position of the service user and advocacy movement in Latin American countries.

What this series of lectures showed was the common factors, clinical, human and organisational, that are shared in mental health care between Latin American and European countries, including local country differences in wealth and attention to the mind in illness, recovery and wellbeing. Global policies and interventions are often promoted to tackle basic human rights standards of protection and care. These do provoke anxiety about imperialist and reductionist and inappropriate models of care being imposed in resource starved areas rather than enabling a bottom up empowerment of local movements, alongside task shifting to tackle the local burden of mental health problems without reliance on an expensive cadre of professionals. All agreed that a concept of governance in mental heath care, making use of international human rights conventions, is essential to promote and progress change.

One of the ambitions of the Santander award is to promote intercultural exchange; we are now planning a joint degree, an anthology of writing on Latin American cultural psychiatrists, and of course, planning for the 4th World Congress in Cultural Psychiatry to be held in Puerto Vallarta in 2015.

Global Mental Health & Cultural Psychiatry

Global Mental Health & Cultural Psychiatry
The 2ndSantander Lecture
Masters of Cultural Psychiatry in Latin America

Professor Sergio Villasenor-Bayardo gave an outstanding second lecture showing how cultural psychiatry evolved as a discipline in the Latin American countries due in part to the many indigenous and immigrant groups living in close proximity, and the contrasting cultural influences in neighbouring countries. The relationship between Latin American countries, and the emerging psychodynamic and psychiatric sciences in France, Germany, England, USA in the 1900’s demonstrated similarities and contrasts. Previous leaders in Latin American countries proposed an approach to their practice that encompassed humanitarian and philosophical perspectives, and considered empathy, the arts, creativity, and the environment as relevant determinants of health and wellbeing and as powerful building blocks of cultural psychiatry. A phenomenology of schizophrenia was presented that, although unfamiliar outside of Latin America, provided a vivid and perceptive description of the internal world and dilemmas faced by people developing a persistent psychosis, specifically exploring how perplexity and withdrawal from the world replaces curiosity and wonder. The lecture included incisive observations and scientific breakthroughs from leading figures in Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, Chile, and Bolivia. Yet these contributions are little known given the geographical and linguistic distance that has to be negotiated for wider dissemination. The lecture was a testament to the vision of the Santander awards to bring scholars together with a mutual sharing of knowledge; in this instance the ambitions are to improve public mental health and wellbeing throughout the world. A Latin American organisation, the Latin American Group of Transcultural Studies or GLADET, was founded in 1951 with similar objectives. An anthology of writings published by GLADET and edited by edited by Professor Villasenor-Bayardo is being translated into English in order to share these profound insights into mental health, mental illness and culture with the rest of the world. This also is being supported by Santander.

This was the second lecture of three. The first lecture on an epidemic of a culture bound syndrome was given on 17th April.

Prof. Kamaldeep Bhui MD FRCPsych

President World Association of Cultural Psychiatry

Public Health Lead, Royal College of Psychiatrists UK