Revisioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health

The concept of mental illness in the West is largely shaped by the DSM diagnostic model. The DSM categorization of psychiatric disorders has been useful in driving research, and psychiatric neuroscience has made enormous strides in identifying some of the brain-based factors that contribute to mental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, as well as suggesting possible drug therapies.

Both neuroscientists and anthropologists have raised questions, however, about the validity and utility of these categories.

Neuroscientists are concerned that the categories obfuscate the key brain-behavior linkages underlying pathological processes. Anthropologists on the other hand argue that the categories are largely social constructions linked to a particular time and place in human history and, furthermore, that these categories, and the current neurobiological zeitgeist more generally, minimally attend to social and cultural processes of mental illness.

Much still remains unknown, particularly how the social and cultural worlds interact with neurobiological processes to produce mental symptoms that we recognize as depression or psychosis in everyday life and what this interaction implies for diagnosis and treatment.

The aim of our 2010 FPR-UCLA interdisciplinary conference (“Cultural and Biological Contexts of Psychiatric Disorder“) was to improve the quality of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment by giving specific attention to biological and cultural contexts and their interactions. Given the abundant criticism directed to both the biological and cultural validity of DSM diagnostic categories, the focus felt particularly important and timely.

The conference set the stage for a re-consideration of psychiatry and its objects of study in our new volume to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Revisioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Clinical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health argues for a more integrated, systems-oriented approach in psychiatry. The volume presents cutting-edge work in phenomenology, neuroscience, anthropology, epidemiology, and public health that addresses biosocial mechanisms, the cultural mediation of experience, and the impact of social responses to mental health problems.

The volume features an outstanding, confirmed roster of leaders in the fields of philosophy, history of psychiatry, cultural psychiatry, critical neuroscience, and anthropology as fellow contributors, including Neil Aggarwal, Kalman Applbaum, Anne Becker, German Berrios, Robert Bilder, Yulia Chentsova-Dutton, Suparna Choudhury, Thomas Csordas, Shaun Gallagher, James Griffith, Byron Good, Devon Hinton, Nev Jones, Brandon Kohrt, Cecile Ladouceur, Robert Lemelson, Roberto Lewis-Fernandez, Steven Lopez, Tanya Luhrmann, Daniel Margulies, Ivana Marková, Kwane McKenzie, Josef Parnas, Mary L. Phillips, Eugene Raikhel, Amir Raz, Andrew Ryder, Jai Shah, Gustavo Turecki, Amelia Versace.

For more information, check out the following talk originally posted on somatosphere and McGill’s Transcultural Psychiatry blog in which Revisioning Psychiatry‘s lead editor Laurence J. Kirmayer outlines some key issues of the book.

Laurence Kirmayer, “Revisioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health” from Clinical Ethnography on Vimeo.

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