Ross G. White, Maria Grazia Imperiale and Em Perera (2016) The Capabilities Approach: Fostering contexts for enhancing mental health and wellbeing across the globe, Globalization and Health 12:16 DOI: 10.1186/s12992-016-0150-3

Concerted efforts have been made in recent years to achieve equity and equality in mental health for all people across the globe. This has led to the emergence of Global Mental Health as an area of study and practice. The momentum that this has created has contributed to the development, implementation and evaluation of services for priority mental disorders in many low- and middle-income countries.

This paper discusses two related issues that may be serving to limit the success of mental health initiatives across the globe, and proposes potential solutions to these issues. First, there has been a lack of sophistication in determining what constitutes a ‘good outcome’ for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Even though health is defined and understood as a state of ‘wellbeing’ and not merely an absence of illness, mental health interventions tend to narrowly focus on reducing symptoms of mental illness. The need to also focus more broadly on enhancing subjective wellbeing is highlighted. The second limitation relates to the lack of an overarching theoretical framework guiding efforts to reduce inequalities and inequities in mental health across the globe. This paper discusses the potential impact that the Capabilities Approach (CA) could have for addressing both of these issues. As a framework for human development, the CA places emphasis on promoting wellbeing through enabling people to realise their capabilities and engage in behaviours that they subjectively value.

The utilization of the CA to guide the development and implementation of mental health interventions can help Global Mental Health initiatives to identify sources of social inequality and structural violence that may impede freedom and individuals’ opportunities to realise their capabilities.