Mental health policies are diverse. That of any particular country is an aspect of its overall health policy, itself a subfield of its overall social policies and an inevitable reflection of the socially transmitted values at the heart of its culture. Decisions leading to social policy inevitably reflect insufficient data, unexpected events, and unsubstantiated assumptions. Further, no policy can be understood without reference to the political context in which it has developed, and the political process of debate and compromise through which it has been formulated. In short, mental health policies, just as other public policies, reflect the workings of something we might call "the policy process." This is the set of interactions through which individuals with social power are persuaded to support legislative, judicial, and regulatory decisions that will ultimately influence the nature of rational behavior and capacities, in this instance the well-being of its primary resource, its people. The compromises at which power-holders arrive reflect competing political philosophies and allegiances, personal status, values, market forces, perceptions of need, and varying demands upon limited resources.
Even more fundamentally, the national contexts in which policies emerge are continually influenced by demography: population growth and aging are fundamental determinants of social need and, hence, policy. They are influenced by the overall economic status of the nation and its ethnic composition. International influences come from commercial organizations, the intergovernmental system (i.e., the United Nations), and the voluntary, nongovernmental ( NGO) sector, as well as world events impinging on various countries such as war and migration. The bulk of the world's migrants, economic as well as political, are moving from the developing to the developed nations, and this imposes additional burdens on health and mental health policy.
The International Handbook on Mental Health Policy represents a much