Mutuality as a method: advancing a social paradigm for global mental health through mutual learning

Doerte Bemme, Tessa Roberts, Kenneth Ayuurebobi Ae-Ngibise, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Kaustubh Joag, Ashraf Kagee, Mercilene Machisa, Claire Van Der Westhuizen, André Janse van Rensburg, Samantha Willan, Milena Wuerth, May Aoun, Sumeet Jain, Crick Lund, Kaaren Mathias, Ursula Read, Tatiana Taylor Salisbury, Rochelle Ann Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Calls for “mutuality” in global mental health (GMH) aim to produce knowledge more equitably across epistemic and power differences. With funding, convening, and publishing power still concentrated in institutions in the global North, efforts to decolonize GMH emphasize the need for mutual learning instead of unidirectional knowledge transfers. This article reflects on mutuality as a concept and practice that engenders sustainable relations, conceptual innovation, and queries how epistemic power can be shared.Methods: We draw on insights from an online mutual learning process over 8 months between 39 community-based and academic collaborators working in 24 countries. They came together to advance the shift towards a social paradigm in GMH. Results: Our theorization of mutuality emphasizes that the processes and outcomes of knowledge production are inextricable. Mutual learning required an open-ended, iterative, and slower paced process that prioritized trust and remained responsive to all collaborators’ needs and critiques. This resulted in a social paradigm that calls for GMH to (1) move from a deficit to a strength-based view of community mental health, (2) include local and experiential knowledge in scaling processes, (3) direct funding to community organizations, and (4) challenge concepts, such as trauma and resilience, through the lens of lived experience of communities in the global South. Conclusion: Under the current institutional arrangements in GMH, mutuality can only be imperfectly achieved. We present key ingredients of our partial success at mutual learning and conclude that challenging existing structural constraints is crucial to prevent a tokenistic use of the concept.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Global mental health
  • Mutuality
  • Mutual learning
  • Decolonizing knowledge
  • Social determinants of mental health
  • Epistemic justice


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