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Mad in America: Rethinking Mental Health

The Mad in America podcast, hosted by James Moore, examines mental health with a critical eye by speaking with psychologists, psychiatrists and people with lived experience.

When you hear such conversations, you realise that much of what is believed to be settled in mental health is actually up for debate. Is mental health a matter of faulty biology or is there more to it? Are the treatments used in psychiatry helpful or harmful in the long term? Are psychiatric diagnoses reliable? With the help of our guests, we examine these questions and so much more. 

This podcast is part of Mad in America’s mission to serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care and mental health. We believe that the current drug-based paradigm of care has failed our society and that scientific research, as well as the lived experience of those who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, calls for profound change. 

On the podcast over the coming weeks, we will have interviews with experts and those with lived experience of the psychiatric system. Thank you for joining us as we discuss the many issues around rethinking mental health around the world.

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Jul 18, 2019

MIA’s Ayurdhi Dhar interviews Diana Kopua about the Mahi a Atua approach, the global mental health movement, and the importance of language and narratives in how we understand our world and ease our suffering.

Diana Kopua’s life resembles the stories she uses in her work. From a psychiatric community nurse to the head of the department of psychiatry for Hauora Tairawhiti in Gisborne, New Zealand, her 13-year long, arduous journey is both deeply personal and profoundly political. Kopua says she did this to “become a wedge that kept the door open to allow for indigenous leaders” in her world to change the system. One may call her a storyteller, but a story-gatherer might be more appropriate.

As a psychiatrist, Kopua deals in human distress but her interest does not lie in neat psychiatric classifications; instead, she focuses on understanding suffering through Maori creation stories, Purakau. She has developed Mahi a Atua, “an engagement, an assessment, and an intervention” to address the mental distress and suffering among the Maori of New Zealand. Mahi a Atua is not just a set of techniques or a culturally sensitive new therapy, but a drastically different way of conceptualizing the lived experience of the Maori.

Recently, along with art and culture expert Mark Kopua and critical psychiatrist Pat Bracken, she published a paper on this approach in Transcultural Psychiatry. Their work can be seen as an alternative to Western pharmaco-therapeutic interventions currently being promoted throughout the global South via the global mental health movement.

Researchers have critiqued the exporting of Western psychiatric practices, often citing the famous WHO study that reported better outcomes for people diagnosed with mental disorders in the developing world. As the only Ngati Porou (a Maori nation) psychiatrist in the world, working with a population known for poor mental health outcomes, Kopua’s work offers insight into what can be learned from local, Indigenous, and traditional healing methods.

There are many now calling for a “paradigm shift” in Western psychiatry, and in our interview, we covered topics ranging from the specifics of the Mahi a Atua approach, the global mental health movement, and the importance of language and narratives in how we understand our world and ease our suffering.

© Mad in America 2019