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 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.

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