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UN expert highlights importance of social relationships for mental health and well-being

GENEVA (24 June 2019) – A UN human rights expert has urged States to examine factors affecting mental health as part of their obligations to protect and promote the right to health. As well as access to healthcare, food, housing, education and work, social and psychosocial elements that promote individual and social well-being were equally important.

“The quality of social relationships matters,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, Dainius Pūras, said before presenting a new report to the Human Rights Council. “Connections between individuals, families and communities over the course of life, across generations, between government and people, between different nations, and between mankind and nature are critical for mental health,” he added.

In his report, the expert says these relationships are shaped by structures in homes, schools, workplaces, healthcare settings and society at large, and are therefore linked to issues such as abusive relationships, violence and social disparities, among others.

Pūras said that in complying with their right to health obligations, States should enable healthy and positive relationships based on trust, respect and tolerance and create opportunities for solidarity, mutual support and trust.

“This means promoting community inclusion, environments free from violence, and participation in cultural diversity. It also means eradicating xenophobia, decriminalising poverty and of behaviours such as drug use and sexual diversity,” the Special Rapporteur said.

On mental health-care systems, Pūras said many residential institutions and psychiatric hospitals too often breed cultures of violence, stigmatisation and helplessness. “Efforts should be refocused towards non-coercive alternatives that address holistic well-being, and place individuals and their definition of their experiences, and their decisions, at the centre.”

Pūras also highlighted the need to support families to improve the quality of relationships between parents and children. He reiterated his call to eliminate institutional care for children and elaborated on the need to address bullying and prevent depression and suicide through modern public health approaches that value and foster non-violent relationships and avoid excessive medicalisation.

The report will be presented on 24 June to the Human Rights Council, which can be watched live.

Report of the Special Rapporteur


The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health (right to health). Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health and child health; he took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on 1 August 2014. Dainius Pūras is the Director of Human rights monitoring institute in Vilnius Lithuania, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and public mental health at Vilnius University and teaches at the faculties of medicine and philosophy of the same university.  Learn more.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Marina Narvaez (+41 22 9615, mnarvaez@ohchr.org) or Lucía de la Sierra (+41 22 917 9741 / ldelasierra@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org

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