@Suneetharani and @stephaniel you touched on multiple important areas we are currently thinking about. Thanks for your comments! I’ll share a broad reply detailing some of our thoughts and their overlap with what you shared.
One challenge is how culture and definitions of mental wellness and distress change across cultures and time. Indeed, these things are not static or universal. We imagine a part of this data collection process to be “real time” and any tools and surveys be designed from the bottom up and be culturally specific, rather than working from a top down approach (such as using the DSM only). A challenge will be in moving from local idioms or cultural concepts of distress (for example: “thinking too much,” somatic pains, a peppery head, malaise of the heart, etc.) to internationally used classifications that inform global indicators. There is a demand for globally comparable data. But at the same time, we need to question if what we are observing are really the same as the Western category it could get lumped into. There are some engaging arguments here (that are maybe the subject of another post).
Some researchers over the past few decades have been hopeful about how it’s possible to understand gender and culturally specific expressions of distress in terms of broader Western categories–mood disorders, psychoses, trauma, for instance. At the same time, they caution against simply treating culture and gender differences as flavoring on an underlying process that is the same for all humans. Gender and culture are not flavorings, they are core to the experience of distress (Janis Jenkins work makes this point).
Regardless of how international bodies want to classify forms of distress, the imperative should be that any services be designed locally and, ideally, address stigmas.
How can we improve the global mental health data needs without completely transforming or erasing local concepts of distress in the process? Maybe one set of data is reported to international bodies while local communities and policy makers continue to work within their specific cultural concepts of distress. Any thoughts or ideas?