Asian Psychiatry

Professor. M Parameshvara Deva, Malaysia. Founder of AFPA

The idea of Asian Psychiatry uniting to put its shoulder to the wheel of change to reform Asian Psychiatry started late in the 1960’s in different parts of Asia among the newly trained psychiatrists. Those in Southeast Asia met several times and by 1973 had formed a pro-tem committee of the proposed ASEAN Association of Psychiatrists. This took further discussions and finally in 1981 Asia’s first regional psychiatric association, the ASEAN Federation for Psychiatry and Mental Health (AFPMH) was formed in Bangkok. This consisted then of 5 member countries, namely Indonesia Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It was the beginning of post colonial era psychiatric contact, communication and cooperation in Asian Psychiatry. It was the brain child of ASEAN psychiatry’s leaders, headed by Professor R Kusumanto Setyenegoro the Director of Mental Health in the Ministry of health Indonesia and concurrently Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Indonesia. Despite this optimistic start it took another 22 years for the next regional Psychiatric association, the South Asian forum for Mental Health and Psychiatry to be formed.

The need for cooperation in psychiatry across Asia has been felt by some psychiatrists but been slow in starting for a variety of reasons. Following the Second World War and gradual decolonization most former colonies that gained independence sent their trainees in psychiatry overseas mostly to their former colonizing countries for training in small numbers. These formed the nucleus of future psychiatric human resources of these developing countries and hopefully set up indigenous training programmes. But they quickly faced administrative and economic problems at home that slowed if not stopped change. Psychiatry is a low priority discipline in most countries of Asia. As time went on the spectre of brain drain added to make any plans for improving slow and tenuous.

It was at this stage in 1998 that a former president of the ASEAN Federation for Psychiatry and Mental Health Dr. M P Deva started discussions with colleagues from Asian countriess to form an Asian Psychiatric Federation to join hands across Asia to fulfill the task of psychiatric reform. The backward state of psychiatric practices, teaching and research needed to reflect the rapid economic and even medical advancement of this vast continent of 3.3 billion people. Letters were sent out to all psychiatric associations in Asia explaining the need to form a federation of psychiatric associations to share experiences and resources so that psychiatry could improve in all parts of Asia. Unlike other branches of medicine and indeed science and technology that were charging forward in the economic boom occurring in Asia, psychiatry remained backward in its practice even in the developed countries of Asia. Large mental hospitals and custodial care of the mentally ill continued to stigmatize mental health, preventing progress in many countries. Custodial care sometimes in modern trappings continued to work against attempts to give psychiatry a human or health care face to young minds in training in medicine and nursing and influenced decision making in ministries of heath throughout the continent.


There was a need to link up psychiatric associations that for the most part lived side by side in almost total isolation in most parts of Asia, following very different systems based often models of care invented continents away following practices meant for other cultures, economies and needs. The unquestioning belief in historical concepts of psychiatric care, developed and imposed during historical past had all but stagnated growth for a new generation of psychiatrists.

A first meeting was held in Yokohama in 2002 of about 20 interested people and this led to better contacts among Asian leaders in psychiatry. There followed the formation of the innovative South Asian Forum for Mental Health and Psychiatry international (SAFMHP-I) in 2003 and the SAARC Psychiatric Federation (SPF) linking psychiatrists of the 8 South Asian countries of SAARC in 2004. It was followed by the formal launch of the Asian Federation of Psychiatric Associations on 11 September 2005.

The AFPA went to work immediately helping the people affected by the 2004 December Tsunami in several countries, helping in training of trainers in psychosocial projects. AFPA was formally inaugurated on Asian soil in Lahore Pakistan on 17th February 2007 where the pro-tem committee was replaced by a formally elected Board, with Prof Shinfuku as its first president and a constitution provisionally adopted subject to amendments. AFPA has 6 regional members in the form of AFPMH, SAFMHP-I., SPF, and provisional groups for East Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. AFPA has continued to help with training and psychosocial relief in many parts of Asia and the recent disasters in Asian countries that together have claimed well over 500,000 lives in Asia in the past 3 ½ years but that attracts very little psychiatric help from outside of Asia.

In August 2007 The First World Congress of Asian Psychiatry (1-WCAP) was held in Goa India that attracted over 350 participants from 5 continents. At this Congress the Asian Journal of psychiatry was launched the Journal will fill a long felt need for a quality journal in psychiatry for all of Asia aimed at cooperation among psychiatrists interested in changing Asian psychiatry for the better and cutting edge research that will benefit Asian psychiatry. It welcomes contributions that highlight Psychiatry in Asia from around the world.

AFPA has come a very long way since 2005 when it was launched and strengthened ties within the member countries of Asia who face many problems in mental health. The Asian Journal of Psychiatry (AJP) is at the cornerstone of this effort for excellence in Asian Psychiatry