UN resolution calls for a human rights approach to mental health services

We are thrilled about a new Resolution on Mental Health and Human Rights, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 01 July 2016, which calls on Member States to view mental health care from a human rights perspective and to take action accordingly. This is an exciting step forward, as it signals an escalation of the UN’s commitment to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) on addressing global mental health needs.

According to a statement released by the British Psychological Society, its President, Professor Peter Kinderman, stated:

"This resolution is good news for all of us who use mental health services, and for people in developing nations in particular. If we used a ‘rights’ approach rather than an ‘disease’ approach to mental health, we would come to some very different decisions about involuntary detention, forcible treatment, the use of inappropriate diagnoses and excessive reliance on the use of medication, and even on the relationship between mental health and welfare systems.”

Among its key points, the resolution:

  • Defines human rights and dignity as being universal and indivisible, including the right to be free from discrimination
  • Echoes the WHO’s stance that “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being,” emphasizing that mental health is an integral part of the right to good health
  • Voices concern that persons with mental health conditions or using mental health services may be subject to “discrimination, stigma, prejudice, violence, social exclusion and segregation, unlawful or arbitrary institutionalization, overmedicalization, and treatment practices that fail to respect their autonomy, will, and preferences”
  • Voices concern that “such practices may constitute violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, sometimes amounting to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment”
  • Acknowledges that greater commitment by member States is needed to address these challenges, and urges them to take measures to the maximum of their available resources, stressing that services should integrate a human rights perspective and comply with international human rights norms
  • Recommends that States follow the leadership of the WHO and implement its Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020

In its conclusion, the resolution calls for a report to be prepared by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the integration of human rights into mental health care. The report is expected to identify and make recommendations on existing challenges and emerging good practices, and is to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 34th session in March 2017.

What can we do?

The request for the report encourages the High Commissioner to “liaise with and seek the views of Member States and all other relevant stakeholders,” including UN bodies, agencies, programmes, human rights institutions, and civil society. As innovators actively working to change mental health care for the better across the world, MHIN members should ensure that our opinions are heard. We look forward to our continued work with MHIN members showcasing your practices, challenges, and impact. Together we can demonstrate that a human rights approach to mental health services is possible and can bring huge benefits to society.

Related resources and reading

The WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013 - 2020

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This is good news. At least they already have the bases about this kind of issue.
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