Mental health and human rights

Mental health conditions will affect one in four people throughout their lifetime, according to current estimates. Yet nearly two thirds of persons with mental health conditions will not seek treatment for their condition. Poor mental health is a predisposing factor for physical health problems and a much-reduced life expectancy. The absence of community-based mental health care in many parts of the world means the only care available is in psychiatric institutions, which are associated with gross human rights violations, such as degrading treatment and living conditions.

The experience of those living with mental health conditions is shaped by the marginalisation of mental health in public policy. This manifests itself in, among other areas, social life, inequality of access to opportunities, and the overrepresentation of persons with mental health conditions in 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.

Report and Consultation

Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on mental health and human rights (2017) (A/HRC/34/32)

This report, mandated by the Human Rights Council in resolution 32/18, identifies some of the major challenges facing users of mental health services, persons with mental health conditions and persons with psychosocial disabilities, such as:

  • stigma and discrimination
  • violations of economic, social and other rights
  • the denial of autonomy and legal capacity

The report concludes that, to support the full realisation of the human rights of people with mental health conditions, States need shifts in policy. Among key recommendations, States must:

  • create a legal environment that is conducive to supporting the human rights of people with mental health issues;
  • systematically include human rights in policy and legal frameworks;
  • recognise the individual’s autonomy, agency and dignity;
  • pass measures to improve the quality of mental health services, and stop harmful practices like involuntary treatment and institutionalisation; and
  • share technical expertise and good practices.

Read the full report (A/HRC/34/32), available in the 6 UN official languages.

Consultation: identifying strategies to promote human rights in mental health (A/HRC/39/36)

The Human Rights Council, in its resolution 36/13, recognised that persons with mental health conditions face widespread discrimination, stigma, prejudice, violence, abuse, social exclusion and segregation. They also endure unlawful or arbitrary institutionalisation, overmedicalisation and treatment practices that fail to respect their autonomy, will and preferences.

In order to address these violations, the Council held a 2017 consultation on identifying strategies to promote human rights in mental health.

Read more about the consultation, including bios and presentations of the panelists.