Dr. Patel has dedicated his research career to raising the global profile of mental health problems through: epidemiological research demonstrating the burden of mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries, their strong association with poverty and with other public health priorities, such as HIV and child growth and development; and intervention research in which he has applied a systematic approach to the design, delivery and evaluation of contextually appropriate psychosocial interventions provided by lay and community health providers. This has included the primary care treatment of depression, anxiety and alcohol use disorders, the community-based care of people with schizophrenia and autism, and the prevention and treatment of adolescent mental health problems through school-based interventions.
Much of his work has been done in partnership with Sangath, an Indian NGO he co-founded in 1996. Sangath is one of India’s leading community-based research organizations which won the MacArthur Foundation International Prize for Creative & Effective Institutions in 2008 and the WHO Public Health Champion of India prize in 2016. Dr. Patel also co-founded the Centre for Global Mental Health and the Mental Health Innovations Network (at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) and the Movement for Global Mental Health, the largest global network of individuals and organizations advocating for promoting services and human rights for people living with mental health problems. In 2018, he co-founded the GlobalMentalHealth@Harvard initiative which is developing a suite of innovative, inter-disciplinary, initiatives aimed at implementing and generating knowledge to transform mental health globally.
As recently as 10 years ago, it was difficult to even imagine mental health problems being considered as a global health priority; today, the situation is radically different with considerable attention from a diverse range of global health stakeholders, backed by resources, being focused on mental health, particularly in disadvantaged and low resourced contexts. Patel’s work and leadership has played a critical role in making this happen. His research has challenged many of the myths surrounding mental health problems in the global context, demonstrating that these problems are universal forms of human suffering; that there is a vicious cycle of deprivation and poor mental health; that mental health problems profoundly affect the physical health and well-being of affected persons; that psychosocial interventions can be effectively delivered by widely available and affordable community based providers; and that the human rights of people with mental health problems to access quality care and to a life with dignity are global concerns. This work and his leadership has made significant contributions to the establishment of the field of global mental health, with priority research, teaching, policy and practice agendas, for example the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health research initiative, the World Health Organization’s flagship mhGAP program on mental health and India’s first national mental health policy.