In 1955, Drs. Eric Wittkower and Jack Fried set up the section of Transcultural Psychiatric Studies as a joint venture between the Departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology at McGill. Its first achievement was to develop a newsletter to form a network of psychiatrists for the exchange of information about the then little known effects of culture on psychiatric disorders. The newsletter subsequently became Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review. In 1981, a Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry was inaugurated to integrate research and teaching in these fields.
Eric Wittkower, H.B.M. Murphy, Raymond Prince and other members of the Division conducted path breaking research on a wide range of topics:
- cultural variations in psychiatric disorder and culture-bound syndromes
- cross-cultural and cross-national epidemiology of psychiatric disorders
- illness beliefs and cultural healing practices
- patterns of psychoactive drug use (alcohol, cannabis, coca)
- attitudes toward the mentally ill
- healing functions of trance and religious experience
In recent years, with the changing composition of Québec society, Division members have come to focus attention not only on international mental health but equally on the mental health problems of immigrants, refugees, aboriginal and ethnocultural minority communities in Canada. The study of psychiatric theory and practice itself as a cultural construction is also a major focus of research.