Moving Global Mental Health “Outside Our Heads”

An interview with Dr. Derek Summerfield.


This week, MIA Radio presents the fourth in a series of interviews on the topic of the global “mental health” movement.” This series is being developed through a UMASS Boston initiative supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundation. The interviews are being led by UMASS PhD students who also comprise the Mad in America research news team.

Over the past three weeks, we have published interviews with many of the leading voices in this debate.

Immediately following the release of the report and the beginning of the Summit, on World Mental Health Day, psychiatric epidemiologist, Dr. Melissa Raven, was on the MIA podcast. She questioned the evidence base of the movement, pointing to statistical issues in the prevalence rates of mental disorders internationally, and called for a focus on addressing barriers to health rather than on individualized treatment.

Mental health service-user activists, Jhilmil Breckinridge, of the Bhor Foundation in India, and Dr. Bhargavi Davar, of Transforming Communities for Inclusion (TCI) Asia Pacific were also on the podcast. Each discussed the lack of involvement of service-user and disability rights groups in the UK Summit and Lancet report and laid out alternative frameworks for addressing distress in ways that are sensitive to culture and social context.

Next, Dr. China Mills, a critical psychologist and author of Decolonizing Global Mental Health, spoke to my colleague, Zenobia Morrill, about her experience attending the UK summit and the lack of attention that has been given to the ways in which austerity policies in Britain have contributed to the increased demand for mental health interventions.

You can find these earlier interviews at the links below:

10/10/18 – Interview with Dr. Melissa Raven, psychiatric epidemiologist – The Global ‘Mental Health’ Movement – Cause For Concern

10/20/18 – Interviews with mental health service-user/psychosocial disability rights activists Jhilmil Breckenridge and Dr. Bhargavi Davar – Global Mental Health: An Old System Wearing New Clothes

10/24/18 – Interview by MIA research news editor Zenobia Morrill with Dr. China Mills, a critical psychologist and prominent critic of the global mental health movement – Coloniality, Austerity, and Global Mental Health

Today I am very pleased to announce that we are joined by Dr. Derek Summerfield.

Dr. Summerfield is an honorary senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, former Research Associate at the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford and consultant at Oxfam. He was born in South Africa and trained in medicine and psychiatry at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. Dr. Summerfield has published hundreds of articles in medicine and social science and has contributed widely to understanding the impact of war-related trauma and torture on people around the world. He has been an outspoken critic of the global mental health movement for several years, criticizing the medicalization of trauma through PTSD, the exaggerated prevalence rates in the epidemiological data, and the lack of awareness of the different cultural experiences and understandings of distress.


  1. I haven’t listened to this one yet (looking forward to it) but I have found the previous three very interesting. In my ignorance I had not even realised that there was something called global mental health that people do masters in. My reaction is along the lines of ‘what is so wonderful about what is happening here that we should be exporting it?’ although I accept that the debate is more sophisticated than that. The Lancet has just produced a ‘reducing the global burden of depression’ report. I haven’t read it but just looking at the list of references is worrying. Cipriani and Co are in there.

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  2. Absolutely compelling, with such palpable commitment, integrity and honesty.

    Some initial perceptions of this fascinating interview:

    A masterclass in the objective and critical analysis of mainstream psychiatry’s expansionist, evidence de-based propaganda.

    A real physician, with a lifetime of helping, not hurting in psychiatry, and in relieving suffering in HIV medicine.

    A philosophy which provides a powerful antidote for the endless marketing masquerading as medicine, which is the basis for the vast majority of the indoctrinated, unquestioning media coverage of western “Mental Health”.

    Thank you. I was truly riveted in attention throughout this podcast.

    TRM 123. Retired Consultant Physician.

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  3. The WHO opened the door when it found that “depression” was rapidly becoming the leading cause of “disability” in the world. Here’s the pie, and there’s the “mental health” treatment industry salivating over the coming slices. The problem, supporting this “mental health” treatment industry, you’ve got the “mental health” movement. The “mental health” movement is a medicalization movement. If there is no “mental illness”, literally, all “mental illness” diagnosis represent examples of medicalization. Developing nations, of course, need to resist this importation of western medicine, but, really, people need to oppose the “mental health” movement because the “mental health” movement is the real impetus behind this spread and expansion of medicalization. It starts at home, and it spreads to infect the rest of the world. The antidote, antipsychiatry, means resisting this movement to spread phony “disease”, and the service industry that feeds off of it, everywhere, and, in fact, working to reverse it. Of course, that said, doing so goes against the interests of the service industry that gains through this expansion of medicalization. Win/win, except, of course, as far as everybody else is concerned. I wish you good luck when it comes to interjecting a few moral scruples and hesitations into the situation. That’s a start, I suppose, of course, but much much more is needed, not in terms of medicalization, but in terms of de-medicalization.

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  4. This psychiatric “global mental health movement” is a flawed concept for many reasons. First, of course, because all the DSM disorders were declared “invalid” over five years ago, so exporting a bunch of “invalid” theorized diseases is morally repugnant.

    Second, the psychiatric drugs actually create the symptoms of the DSM disorders. The ADHD drugs and antidepressants create the bipolar symptoms. And the antipsychotics create both the negative and positive symptoms of schizophrenia, via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome and antipsychotic induced anticholinergic toxidrome. And doctors making people sick for profit is the opposite of what the medical industry promised the public they would do. Thus is hypocritical, not to mention downright evil.

    Third, since the number one actual function of our psychiatrists and, historically and still today also our psychologists, is covering up child abuse, lately by turning millions of child abuse survivors into the “mentally ill” with the psychiatric drugs.

    Other religions and cultures, in other parts of the world, don’t ban rape of children. So those parts of the world will not need Western psychiatry’s child rape covering up services.

    This concept of globalizing psychiatry’s iatrogenic illness creation, primarily child abuse covering up, system is deplorable.

    I do hope India will bring their DSM deluded doctors back to India though, since they’ve been medically unnecessarily harming innocent Americans for profit.

    And his psychiatric “snowing” partner in crime:

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