Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 596–612 | Cite as

Inspecting Mental Health: Depression, Surveillance and Care in Kerala, South India

  • Claudia LangEmail author
Original Paper


Depression has become a major public health concern in Kerala, South India. Media and mental health professionals often attribute the rise of depression and suicide to a discontent around modern transformations and the flipside of the “Kerala model of development”. Kerala’s primary health care system of health governance, surveillance and care with its backbone of community and multi-purpose health workers is currently being expanded to target inner feelings, emotional suffering and existential despair, as a result of complex global, national and local processes of making visible and stabilizing depression as a public health category. Rather than relying on NGOs and foreign funding, mental health policy planners in Kerala engage the state of Kerala. Using the case of a junior health inspector’s counseling, I argue that the reconfiguration of suffering from an existential part of life and symptom of adversity into a medical condition can also lead to mobilization of (gendered) care in a context of familial marginalization and neglect. In this context, individual bodies are healed by restoring social bodies. Medicalization does not necessarily silence social inequalities and marginalization but can become productive in providing an idiom to critique a family’s moral economy.


Depression Community mental health Care Elderly South Asia 



I wish to thank Anne Lovell, Ursula Read, Andrew McDowell and the other participants of the workshop “Historical and Ethnographic Perspectives on the Emergence of Global Mental Health,” Florence, June 13–15, 2017 and an anonymous reviewer for providing helpful suggestions and comments on earlier versions of this paper. I also thank Jemima John for helping me with translations.


This research has been conducted as part of European Research Council (ERC) (340510)-funded project “GLOBHEALTH – From International Public Health to Global Health”.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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