Understanding Traditional and Other Culture-Based Approaches to Mental Illness in Lower- and Middle-Income Contexts

Authored by: Joseph D. Calabrese

The Routledge Handbook of International Development, Mental Health and Wellbeing

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780367027735
eBook ISBN: 9780429397844
Adobe ISBN:


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Those working to improve the treatment of mental illness in diverse cultural contexts often deal with a complex landscape of religious interpretations of illness, ritual interventions, alternative systems of plant medicines, and various claims of efficacy. 1 These voices and claims must be balanced with a commitment to actually enhancing wellbeing, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’. Evaluating each context independently is crucial, as some alternatives to ‘Western’ medicalised interventions enhance patient health, whilst others impede it or even cause harm. In attempting to illuminate this landscape, this chapter will draw on the author’s decades of experience as a medical anthropologist and clinical psychologist researching mental illness and its treatment, whilst also personally treating patients in several different societies. Case examples will be drawn primarily from fieldwork and clinical practice in Native North American communities and in Bhutan.

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