Accepted paper:

Discourses, dilemmas and the global coordination of "the right to mental health and development"


Sonya Jakubec (Mount Royal University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper provides an institutional ethnographic analysis of how mental health is experienced as a “human right” through contemporary international relations, and dominant economic indicators of health and development.

Paper long abstract:

Global justice and human rights language, of which there are a number of competing interests, is increasingly present in mental health practice internationally. What happens at the intersection of the discourse and mental health/development practice legitimizes some notions of rights, and obscures others. In this paper, I explicate, through an institutional ethnography, how diverse "human rights" expressions arise in academic, political and international development sectors and how these expressions of "rights" are experienced in the field of mental health research and practice. Through a particular site of research and knowledge making for mental health and development, I examine the discourses in action, on the ground, and trace the connections between local mental health work and the global "right to mental health" discourse. In the relations of local NGO, national research programs and official aid strategy we can see how the "right to mental health" is brought into action through economic indicators of health and development "results" and internationally coordinated poverty reduction strategy. This paper provides an analysis of how existing rights discourses and practices are enabling, helpful, limiting and, at times, harmful to actual mental health and development. With these findings as a basis for discussion, I further unravel the more generalizable challenges for scholars of "the human right to health", and dilemmas for programmatic and social change for policy makers, funding program officers and health workers intent upon realizing everyday mental health and development goals.

panel LD36
Ethnographic perspectives on 'global mental health'