Structural Competency and Social Medicine to Transform Global Mental Health

Helena Hansen advocates for integrating U.S. structural competency with Latin American social medicine to reshape mental healthcare into a vehicle for social change and justice.


A new article published in Global Public Health puts social medicine traditions in conversation with one another to move beyond the confines of narrow biomedical and individualistic approaches and towards a broader commitment to social change. Hansen argues that by integrating principles from social medicine, particularly those developed in Latin America, structural competency can transform mental health care into a powerful tool for addressing systemic health inequities.

The author, Helena Hansen, a psychiatrist and anthropologist, is a professor and Chair of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles’s David Geffen School of Medicine, as well as Interim Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.  

Hansen writes to explore the relationship between the social medicine movements in Latin America and the United States’ construct of structural competency. 

One of her main questions in this article asks: 

“What can U.S. structural competency advocates learn from the deep and rich social medicine traditions of Latin America? And is there anything that Latin American and other non-U.S. social medicine traditions might learn from U.S. structural competency?” 
Hansen argues that “cultivating allies within biomedicine can enhance the impact of community health movements and that cross-fertilizing U.S. Structural Competency and social medicine traditions across regions should be a priority for the fields.” 

This approach advocates for a model of care that is not only responsive to individual needs but also actively engaged in challenging and changing the structures that perpetuate health disparities.

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Ally Riddle
Ally is pursuing a master's in interdisciplinary studies through New York University's XE: Experimental Humanities & Social Engagement. She uses the relationship between anthropology, public health, and the humanities to guide her research. Her current interests lie at the intersection of literature and psychology as a method to reframe the way we think about different mental states and experiences. Ally earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota in Biology, Society, & Environment.