Trauma research needs to be more global and accessible

Imagine a 7-year old boy living in India. One day, his father gets drunk and kills his mother. The boy is a witness to the homicide, and develops a high fever as a response. Imagine you’re the mental health professional who is called to support the boy. Some of the things you would want to know are how children in India respond to severe trauma, what words they use, and what helps them to recover.

Unfortunately, that information is virtually inexistent. Traditionally, trauma research has been conducted in high-income, Western countries. This does make sense from a resources perspective, but it does not make sense from a clinical perspective: we should know most about those who are most in need. Trauma from community violence, war, accidents, and natural disasters hits those in low income countries more than those in high income countries.

But is this imbalance actually still the case? Continue reading

Global Mental Health Capacity Building at the 2012 ISTSS Annual Meeting

I ‘stumbled’ on this great blogpost by Andrew Rasmussen on the annual meeting of the ISTSS. Andrew is an associate professor of Psychology at Fordham University and has served as a deputy for the conference. He has been so kind to let me cross-post his thoughts. The original, slightly more extended version can be found on his blog, where he writes about psychology, culture, and displaced populations.

The annual meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), this year held in Los Angeles, wrapped up November 3rd. This year’s theme, Beyond Boundaries: Innovations to Expand Services and Tailor Traumatic Stress Treatments, was in large part a response to a lack of global and cross-cultural perspectives at most ISTSS meetings.

This year the planning was directed by two global mental health researchers, Debra Kaysen and Wietse Tol, and global perspectives were given the main stage. This was most obvious in two of the keynote addresses, one by global mental health luminary Vikram Patel and longtime transcultural psychosocialist Joop de Jong.

In addition to the international perspectives, it was good to hear the issue of capacity building addressed head on. This was addressed in the keynotes, but it also had its own symposium. Theresa Betancourt chaired “Capacity Building in Low-Resource Settings,” and she laid out the issue as movement from “relief to resource,” which sums it up nicely. Speakers included Vikram Patel, Mary Fabri, and Joop de Jong.

One of the key problems in global trauma practice is that mental health professionals from high income countries fly in to low and middle income countries (LMICs), ‘do their thing’ for a few weeks or a few months, then fly out — leaving nothing in terms of increased ability to deal with the long-term issues related to disasters, let alone in terms of preparation for subsequent ones. Capacity Building in Low-Resource Settings was a discussion of how to guard against this all too frequent phenomenon. Continue reading