Bookbag: GLH363 - Fundamentals of Global Mental Health

October 21, 2016

THE CATALYST: In 2008, global-health professor Eve Puffer was a postdoctoral candidate at Duke and taught a small elective seminar on mental-health issues around the world. When she returned to the university in 2012 after conducting fieldwork in Kenya, interest (and concern) regarding global mental health—throughout academia and particularly at Duke—had exploded. Today, the course has two variants: One version (GLH660) exists for graduate students, and Puffer teaches a forty-student course to undergraduates.

THE GIST: The course provides both a history of the burgeoning field and an exploration of how problems in global mental health can have cascading effects on other global-health concerns. Much of the course is devoted to case studies—exploring specific disorders that are prevalent in certain regions and have precipitated specific interventions. The question of “what next?” is also prevalent during in-class discussions: As Puffer says, it’s a “very young field, and there are still a lot of ideas to be had.”

ASSIGNMENT LIST: The course reading pulls from a variety of sources and styles: It includes The Lancet special series on global mental health, treatment studies, anthropological accounts in Duke professor Brandon Kohrt’s recent book, Global Mental Health: Anthropological Perspectives, and even critiques of the field, such as Ethan Watters’ Crazy Like Us. This year, Puffer has added fiction and narrative readings to paint a broader, more personal, picture of these regions and disorders: The award-winning novel Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, for example, is an exploration of one mother’s struggles with mental illness in India as told from the perspective of her son. Throughout the semester, students break into small teams and map out pathways to explain how one issue relates to another—how poverty exacerbates a given mental-health disorder, for instance, and how treatment could break such negative cycles.

THE TWIST: One piece that Puffer highlights is the breadth of students in the class—the mixture of majors and backgrounds makes for interesting debates. The class can inspire students to consider majoring in psychology or global health (“converts,” as Puffer calls them), and class discussions have sometimes led to thesis projects and careers solving these very same problems. “It’s a new field with a lot of energy,” she says. “I love it when students say, ‘I didn’t know why I took this course, but now I see how it fits in, and I want to do this.’ ”

  • Lucas Hubbard '14 is the Clay Felker Fellow staff writer at Duke Magazine.