Mental health and human rights
More than 1 in 10 people are living with a mental health condition at any one time. Yet, treatment coverage is unacceptably poor, and especially in low- and middle-income countries. Poor mental health is a predisposing factor for poor physical health and a much-reduced life expectancy. The absence of community-based mental health holistic support in many parts of the world means the only support available is in psychiatric institutions, which are associated with gross human rights violations, such as degrading treatment and abuse, violence, including seclusion, isolation and restraint, used as punishment and coercion, and many other violations spanning basic civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights.
The experience of persons with mental health conditions is shaped by the marginalisation of mental health in laws and public policy. This manifests itself in, among other areas, discrimination, exclusion from public and social life, inequality of access to opportunities, and the overrepresentation of persons with mental health conditions among populations living in poverty.
Indeed there is a strong link between mental health and poverty, and the economic hardship resulting from the inadequate realisation of the rights to education, work, housing, food and water, among other human rights.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for States to appropriately address mental health based on human rights in the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic itself continues to threaten health and wellbeing for the general population. In addition, the pandemic has had an impact on mental health across different population groups, with a disproportionate negative impact on persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities as well as older persons, and persons belonging to other groups in vulnerable situations. Persons residing in institutional settings have faced a higher risk of contagion, confinement, overmedication, isolation and death.
Reports and Consultations
Human Rights Council Intersessional consultation 15 November 2021
Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/43/13 on mental health and human rights requested that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) convene a consultation to discuss the best ways to harmonize national laws, policies and practices relating to mental health with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). OHCHR will prepare and submit a report thereon to the Human Rights Council at its forty-ninth session.
The consultation was a space to highlight promising practical experiences in reforming law and policy related to mental health based on human rights. This includes efforts to harmonize national laws, policies and practices relating to mental health with the CRPD; to promote and protect the rights of persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities in mental health systems, and to address the underlying social, economic and environmental determinants of mental health.
The virtual consultation was attended by UN Member and Observer States, Treaty Body members, Special Procedures’ mandate holders, Intergovernmental Organizations, UN agencies, funds and programmes, International Organizations, National Human Rights Institutions, organizations of persons with disabilities and other civil society organizations.
High level opening presentations
Ms. Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General, on behalf of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)
Ms. Stéphanie Wooley, Deputy Board Member, European Network of (Ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry
- Dr. Marcelo Queiroga, Minister, Ministry for Health, Brazil (pre-recorded video message)
- Dr. Marta Temido, Minister, Ministry for Health, Portugal (pre-recorded video message)
Presentations of the panellists
Segment 1: Exploring and sharing positive experiences in reforming mental health systems guided by a human rights-based approach in order to move from practice to policy.on public policy reform
Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
- Dr. Michelle Funk, Unit Head, Policy, Law and Human Rights Unit, Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, WHO
Mr. Michael Njenga, Regional Mental Health Advisor for Africa, CBM Global
- Dr. Kashef Ijaz, Vice-President, Health Programmes, The Carter Center (pre-recorded video message)
- Ms. Sera Davidow, Director, The Wildflower Alliance (formerly the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community)
Segment 2: Highlighting key aspects of legal reform based on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Dr. Yuri Cutipé, Director of Mental Health of the Ministry of Health, Peru (in Spanish)
Ms. Penelope Weller, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Mr. Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
- Ms. Rosemary Kayess, Chair, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (pre-recorded video message)
Ms. Elizabeth Kamundia, Assistant Director, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights
- Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (pre-recorded video message)
- The Power of Purpose, poem by Erin May Kelly
Conclusions and closing
Interventions from the floor and other written documents submitted for the consultation
- Human Rights Council resolution
43/13 on Mental health and human rights (2020)
- Human Rights Council Resolution
36/13 on Mental health and human rights (2017)
- Human Rights Council Resolution
32/18 on Mental health and human rights (2016)
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (2018) (A/73/161)
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health on the global agenda for mental health that is human rights-based (2020) (A/HRC/44/48)
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health on the role of the determinants of health in advancing the right to mental health (2019) (A/HRC/41/34)
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health on mental health (2017) (A/HRC/35/21)
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (2020) (A/HRC/43/49)
- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report on mental health and human rights on the consultation on human rights and mental health held in Geneva on 14 and 15 May 2018 (A/HRC/39/36)
QualityRights training & guidance tools
Guidance on community mental health services: Promoting person-centred and rights-based approaches (2021)
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