Dr. Byron Good, GC alumnus ‘66 and professor of medical anthropology at Harvard University, presented this year’s first Yoder Public Affairs Lecture on Thursday, Oct. 3, as a part of Goshen College’s Homecoming weekend. The lecture addressed, “Global Mental Health Policy — Indonesia and China.”
“I’m sure you will agree…by the end of the lecture, that this evening’s topic, relating to global mental health policy, is a timely and important issue,” said Del Good, chair of the Yoder Public Affairs Lecture committee and brother to Dr. Byron Good.
In Rieth Recital Hall, Dr. Byron Good shared his story; from studying math at Goshen College to attending Harvard Divinity School and then finding himself employed at Harvard Medical School. It’s a path that he traces back to a school field trip at the Kankakee State Hospital in Illinois.
“I remember going there, and I remember with a kind of vividness, this traumatic memory,” Good said. “What it was like, what it smelled like, what it looked like to go into an institution before there were any antipsychotic medications. I think in some way, that memory stuck with me when I followed a pathway ultimately into working in global mental health.”
Good began his work with Harvard Medical School in 1983, after earning his B.D. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago. But the majority of his work, as it relates to global mental health, began in 1996, when he traveled to Indonesia for the first time.
Good noted that international public health in the early 1950s often focused on infectious diseases and preventing mortality, lacking the mental health component. Only in the last decade has he seen “a strong emergence of mental health as a robust part of global health agenda.”
“Mental health has always been marginal,” Good said. “It’s not a primary source of mortality. It’s not one of the biggest killers…Mental health does not have ‘magic bullet’ treatments — the kind that infectious diseases often have.”
While in Indonesia, specifically the Aceh region, Good was part of a global health movement that provided treatment alongside prevention; sending along anthropologists to understand the history of patient’s problems where findings showed signs of PTSD along with many forms of normal suffering as a result of past-war and conflict in the region.
“In settings of violence, people have very little question about the importance of mental health,” Good said.
Good spoke of hours spent in local Aceh homes, accompanying a local doctor to treat the community members. Five hours into the session, the doctor would take a break — a local, volunteering to massage his back.
“I started to realize that these were not just random stories that we had heard,” Good said. “But that this was traumatically dark throughout the community.”
The results of the study led to conclusions of extremely high rates of mental health symptoms. 78% of this community had lived through firefights and bombings. 41% had a family member or friend killed.
The question became, “What should one do?” Good said.
Good continued his work in Aceh, Indonesia to create a basic mental health model around active outreach with the help of mobile teams. The work was quite effective, he noted, as it brought recognition and presence alongside the value of a medical approach. This was not the kind of work other NGOs were doing, he said.
In advocating for global mental health policy, Good has continued his work in Indonesia, while also beginning to work in countries like China, training those in the mental health field to offer assistance in a centralized society.
The focus of Good’s work in Indonesia also overlapped with Goshen College students who traveled to Indonesia for Study Service Term in Spring 2019, including senior Sophia Martin.
“I spent the service portion of SST working with a community-based rehabilitation center in Yogyakarta, Pusat Rehabilitasi Yakkum,” Martin said. “I was in charge of conducting interviews with Indonesian beneficiaries, most of whom had severe mental health issues.”
“When I heard that Byron was speaking, I was so excited to learn more about global mental health in Indonesia from an American perspective,” she said. “To fill in some of the gaps in my understanding of the issue. It was great to chat with someone who works closely with and cares deeply about the issues that became important to me over SST.”
Dr. Good received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Psychological Anthropology. In 2012, he received the Society for Medical Anthropology’s Lifetime Mentoring Award.
“My experience has really crossed the dramatic changes in the field of mental health and mental health services,” Good said. “I have to now have a theory of human beings that says we are perfectly capable of…carrying the most unbelievable types of violence against each other, and what kind of a theory do we have about human nature that accounts for them?”
The Yoder Public Affairs Lecture Series is an endowed lecture series, established in 1978 by Frank and Betty Jo Yoder, “to enable faculty, students and the local community to hear nationally-recognized speakers address important current issues,” said Del Good.
There will be two more lectures, as a part of the series, this school year: Katie Rogers of the New York Times will present “Covering the White House” on Nov. 25, and Chuck Fluharty, founder, president and CEO of Rural Policy Research Institute will present on Feb. 11, in a co-sponsored event with the Elkhart County Historical Museum.