Psychology Global Mental Health
Grant J. Rich, Kelly O'Donnell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0316


Global mental health (GMH) is a broad and growing domain of research and practice focusing on the mental health realities in our world with a view toward positively impacting the well-being of all people and the planet. Currently it is estimated that nearly one billion people have some type of mental health condition. GMH is shaped by public health, human rights, clinical science, and cultural anthropology and has been galvanized by the explicit inclusion of “mental health and wellbeing” in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 3.4) launched in 2015. SDG 3 focuses on health and dozens of the 169 targets across the seventeen SDGs are relevant for health/mental health promotion and vice versa. This module features resources representing key GMH developments and directions, organized into eleven sections. Due to GMH’s overlapping and broad range of topics, many more sections could also include: history, climate/environment, corruption, universal health coverage, multi-dimensional poverty, trauma, implementation science, social determinants of health, mental health and psychosocial support, substance use and addictions, national and regional overviews, etc. Note that many of these topics are addressed in the chapters of the edited books included in the section Reference Works and Textbooks. The last fifteen years have seen the tangible emergence of GMH as a movement facilitated by a convergence of many collaborative efforts from civil society, lived-experience, business, academic, and government colleagues worldwide. Some of the many areas impacted reflect both advances and shifts in GMH itself, and include greater awareness, acceptance, advocacy, collaboration, and action for: universal health coverage and primary health care; mental health inclusion and parity in health policies, laws, and budgets; culturally-appropriate and faith-sensitive services in the efforts to scale up and task shift; training health professionals and community workers; consultative and leadership roles of people with lived experience; humanitarian assistance that integrates mental health and trauma-informed care; implementation science and evidence-based manuals; resources and digital tools; and the determinants of health—social, economic, and commercial—along with stigma, inequalities, and human rights. The resources in this module point to the growing relevance of GMH in the world community’s efforts to realize “mental health and wellbeing for all” (SDG 3.4). In spite of the challenges, it is encouraging to see the emergence of mainstreamed “multi-sectoral mental health” and “sustainable GMH development” with their positive implications for culturally-relevant, multi-lingual, and human rights-based approaches at the community, national, and international health systems level.

GMH Overviews

Getting oriented to and involved in the growing global mental health (GMH) domain can seem like an ominous task. Fortunately, there are several superb overviews to help colleagues in mental health and across sectors see the big picture and to chart their course in GMH. O’Donnell, et al. 2022 lists ten areas of GMH engagement in a recent overview article that contains a wealth of resources highlighting GMH developments and directions. The authors’ definition of GMH reflects the comprehensive foci of GMH: “GMH is a growing domain of study, research and practice, which promotes equitable mental health and wellbeing for all. It is international, interdisciplinary, culturally-relevant, multi-sectoral; emphasizes the right to health and equity in health; encourages healthy behaviors and lifestyles; is committed to preventing and treating mental, neurological, and substance use conditions (MNS) especially for vulnerable populations (e.g., in settings of poverty, conflict, calamity, and trauma) and in low- and middle-income countries; and seeks to improve policies and programs, professional practices and research, advocacy and awareness, and social, structural, systemic, and environmental factors that affect mental health and wellbeing” (p. 4). The initial GMH movement was significantly shaped via the launching of The Lancet’s special issue on GMH (Lancet 2007), the formation of the Movement for Global Mental Health in 2008, and the mhGAP Program of the World Health Organization in 2008. There were many other precursors in GMH’s development along with various detractors expressing concerns about the hegemonic influence of Western psychiatry and pharmacology (see the section GMH Critiques). World Health Organization 2021 and World Health Organization 2022 are the two main overview resources for GMH guidance and training and especially relevant for graduate schools of psychology/mental health, related health fields, and across sectors. They are evidence-based, collaborative “GMH bookends” that help support the growing body of GMH resources (research, practice guidelines, reports, etc.). The variety of training programs in mental health and health as well as across sectors would greatly benefit by emphasizing, referencing regularly, and including them in their overall programs and as core texts in at least one specific course. Also highly relevant for training and practice is the GMH topic guide Ryan, et al. 2020, titled Mental Health for Sustainable Development, and the GMH overview articles from the GMH-Map Project 2011. Finally, a great place to start for colleagues as well as the general public who are new to the GMH domain is Patel 2012, a compelling video presentation on the TEDGlobal platform.

  • GMH-Map Project. 2011–. GMH-Map, Member Care Associates, Inc.

    This site includes a special section with links to ten GMH orientation articles to further orient those involved in the health fields and other sectors to the GMH domain. These overview articles have appeared in journals, books, and several of the Psychology International and Global Insights issues of the Office of International Affairs, American Psychological Association. They are practical tools to support those desiring to “track and trek” with GMH and for developing a grid to do so.

  • The Lancet. 2007. Global mental health 2007. The Lancet 370 .9590: 801–1252.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61387-7

    This groundbreaking issue lays out the key rationale and sets the agenda for GMH. It features six articles and eight comments that help to launch the emerging domain of GMH.

  • O’Donnell, K., J. Eaton, and M. Lewis O’Donnell. 2022 .Global mental health: Collaborating for sustainable development and wellbeing. In Behavioral science in the global arena. Vol. 2, Global mental, spiritual, and social health. Edited by E. Congress, D. Meister, S. Osborn, and H. Takooshian, 3–21. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

    This chapter introduces Volume 2 of the Global Mental Health book series. It identifies ten categories of “markers” that collectively reflect the substantial and growing impact—locally through globally—of GMH. The markers include research compilations and texts, influential events, reports and manuals, advocacy campaigns, networks, etc. An underlying emphasis is prioritizing collaborative engagement for GMH including perspectives on GMH’s heartening albeit uneven progress and working together into the future.

  • Patel, V. 2012. Mental health for all by involving all. TEDGlobal.

    In this inspirational and instructive twelve-minute presentation, GMH champion Vikram Patel takes us into the global realm of mental health with its malaise and inequities, opportunities and strategies. A central part of his message is the memorable SUNDAR acronym (GMH directions: “Simplify the message, Unpack the treatment, Deliver it where people are, and [develop] Affordable and available human resources”). Sudar is Hindi for beautiful.

  • Ryan, G., V. Iemmi, F. Hanna, H. Loryman, and J. Eaton. 2020. Mental health for sustainable development: A topic guide for development professionals. K4D Emerging Issues Report. Mental Health Innovation Network and IDS.

    This excellent and comprehensive GMH overview succinctly describes the major terms, issues, trends, and efforts in GMH. Highly relevant and well-organized for training programs in academic settings and across sectors, it is a go-to resource for all those working to promote human well-being and development.

  • World Health Organization. 2021. Comprehensive mental health action plan 2013–2020. Geneva, Switzerland.

    This is foundational document is a major guide for the world community’s efforts to improve mental health and well-being for all. It was recently updated and extended to 2030 to sync with the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. This widely endorsed action plan aims to “promote mental well-being, prevent mental disorders, provide care, enhance recovery, promote human rights and reduce the mortality, morbidity and disability for persons with mental disorders” (p. 9).

  • World Health Organization. 2022. World mental health report: Transforming mental health for all. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization

    This highly readable report presents the latest evidence on mental health realities around the world. In spite of the many stark statistics and underlying environmental-social influences, major transformation for mental health is possible and reflected in the overall positive tone of the report. Noteworthy are the testimonies of people who have struggled to maintain their mental health yet have helped to develop supportive community and national mental health services.

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