SOAS University of London

SOAS academic receives funding for SOAS led anthropological study of mental health

6 August 2020

Professor David Mosse has received funding from The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for a three-year collaborative research project, Transformation in Mental Healthcare: An Anthropological Study of Open Dialogue. 

In partnership with Durham University and an inner-London Mental Health NHS Trust, David and his team of anthropologists led from SOAS will train and work in community mental health teams serving local communities in areas of urban disadvantage and enormous cultural diversity. This project will build on SOAS’s particular strengths in the anthropology of psychiatry and mental health.

Joined by mental health clinicians and those with personal experience as service users and carers, the focus of the research team’s embedded ethnographic study is an alternative approach to mental health care called Open Dialogue. This is being implemented in the area as part of what is the first large-scale national trial of a system-wide alternative to the dominant individual-focussed, biomedical diagnosis-treatment model.

Open Dialogue is arguably the most significant innovation in Western psychiatry in recent years. Developed in Finland, it is now being expanded in culturally adapted form in Europe, north America and in Asia. It is a non-diagnostic approach that shifts the focus of care from treating individual psychopathology to empowering social networks for recovery from crisis and serious mental illness. Instead of an expert-led diagnosis-treatment model, Open Dialogue places clients and members of their social network at the centre of a dialogical process aimed at discovering ways out of crisis. At the organisational level, OD ensures rapid response, continuity of care and avoids clinical discussion about clients in their absence.

The project’s findings will enhance the policy-relevance of a clinical trial and inform the translation of OD into new settings. It will contribute to a global movement and critical debate around psychiatric alternatives founding the international Open Dialogue and Anthropology Network (ODAN) as a gateway for ethnographic insights to shape the development of this alternative approach to mental health crisis and recovery globally.

David Mosse, Professor of Social Anthropology and Principal Investigator said:

“I am delighted that the ESRC has funded this research which uniquely brings together anthropologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and those with lived experience of mental health services to investigate the possibility of radical innovation in psychiatric care in the form of Open Dialogue. As a social network approach to mental healthcare, Open Dialogue has its roots in anthropology and the project showcases the discipline’s immersive and dialogical methodology, in collaboration with mental health professionals.

This is an opportunity to build on SOAS’s particular strengths in the anthropology of psychiatry and mental health, and to foster connections to our inner-London setting, and bring a distinctive cross-cultural open-mindedness to bear on the pressing problem of mental health and its social drivers amidst poverty, inequality, precarity and Covid-19.

Partnership with Durham University and the UK-wide trial extend the project’s scope nationally, and into the regions of expertise of team members (especially South Asia) as a contribution to Global Mental Health.”

Read more about the project: 

Transformation in Mental Healthcare: An Anthropological Study of Open Dialogue (APOD) (pdf; 36kb)  

For further information, contact:

Professor David Mosse: