The WHO Calls for Radical Change in Global Mental Health

A Mad in America Report authored by Robert Whitaker, President of Mad in America


During the past decade, the World Health Organization has regularly promoted the goal of improving “global mental health.” While it has often told of the importance of social support and other non-drug alternatives, its efforts helped spread a biomedical standard of care. Western ideas regarding diagnoses, the biological underpinnings of psychiatric disorders, and the regular use of psychiatric drugs have been promoted. Critics of this effort speak of it as a medical colonization.

Today, June 10, the World Health Organization released a 300-page document titled “Guidance on Community Mental Health Services: Promoting Person-Centred and Rights-Based Approaches.” To a large degree, the authors embrace an agenda for change—and a reconception of mental health—that readers of Mad in America will find familiar. The best practices highlighted in the document include Open Dialogue as practiced in Tornio, Finland; Soteria Berne in Switzerland; Afiya House in Western Massachusetts; Basal Exposure Therapy in Norway; and Hearing Voices Support Groups.

The WHO guidance emerged from a group at the United Nations led by Michelle Funk, who is head of the Policy, Law, and Human Rights unit at the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Much as Dainius Pūras, during his time as the UN Special Rapporteur for Health, called for a revolution in mental health, this WHO document calls for wholesale change.

Read the rest of Robert Whitaker’s article here.

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Robert Whitaker is an American journalist and author who has won numerous awards as a journalist covering medicine and science, including the George Polk Award for Medical Writing and a National Association for Science Writers’ Award for best magazine article. In 1998, he co-wrote a series on psychiatric research for the Boston Globe that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. His first book, Mad in America, was named by Discover magazine as one of the best science books of 2002. Anatomy of an Epidemic won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors book award for best investigative journalism. He is the publisher of