Communities affected by conflict are often engaged by different stakeholders: humanitarian aid workers, policy makers, security forces, healthcare personnel, mental health workers and so on. Typically, these stakeholders will work within the boundaries of their expertise, each with their own interventions. Knowledge hierarchies, such as the supremacy of the randomized control trials (the gold standard of evidence-based methods in medicine), and the vested interests of international actors, will inform these interventions. Continuing to think and practise in closed systems simply preserves and perpetuates imperial and colonial practices.
These attempts are short-sighted and unsustainable; we must—and can—do better. Dr. Sami Timimi, fiercely criticizes psychiatric diagnoses and the medical model in psychiatry stating that:
Western mental-health institutions have been pushing the idea of ‘mental-health literacy’ on the rest of the world. Cultures are viewed as becoming more ‘literate’ about mental illness, the more they adopt Western biomedical conceptions of diagnoses like depression and schizophrenia. In the process of doing this we…imply that those cultures that are slow to take up these ideas are in some way ‘backward’.
Based in the North East, the Neem Foundation’s flagship Counselling on Wheels programme seeks to address the psychosocial aspects of the Boko Haram insurgency as a means of building resilience to violent extremism. Counselling on Wheels does this by offering a range of therapeutic psychosocial services and peacebuilding activities. The programme embodies the importance of resisting the presumed universality of Western mental health praxis that do not suit the Nigerian context and traditionally militarized responses to violent extremism—Neem’s approach fundamentally rethinks contemporary notions of mental health, peace and security. Yet, global mental health continues to enact coloniality, and peace and security continues to prefer militaristic responses to violent extremism despite evidence of an evolving and unabating conflict brutality.