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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

WHO and UN Human Rights Office launch new guidance to improve laws addressing human rights violations in mental health care

09 October 2023

GENEVA (9 October 2023) - Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) are jointly launching guidance, entitled “Mental health, human rights and legislation: guidance and practice”. placeholder link

The new guidance aims to support countries to transform mental health systems and services, increase equality and justice in mental health care, and prevent, detect, or remedy human rights violations in mental health care settings.

Human rights violations and coercive practices in mental health care are still far too common. Involuntary hospitalization and treatment, unsanitary living conditions, discrimination and physical, psychological, and emotional abuse characterize many mental health services across the world.


While many countries have sought to reform their laws, policies and services since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006, too few have adopted or amended the relevant laws and policies on the scale needed to end violations and promote the human right to mental health.

“Mental health is an integral and essential component of the right to health. This new guidance will support countries to make the changes needed to provide quality mental health care that assists a person’s recovery and respects their dignity, empowering people with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities to lead full and healthy lives in their communities.”

  • WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus

“Our ambition must be to transform mental health services, not just in their reach, but in their underlying values, so that they are truly responsive to the needs and dignity of the individual. This publication offers guidance on how a rights-based approach can support the transformation needed in mental health systems.”

  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk

Recognizing that mental health is not the sole responsibility of the health care sector alone, the new guidance is aimed at all legislators and policy-makers involved in drafting, amending and implementing legislation impacting mental health, such as laws addressing poverty, housing, inequality and discrimination.


BACKGROUND:  The guidance sets out what needs to be done to embed a rights-based community approach to mental health care and accelerate deinstitutionalization. This includes adopting legislation to advance the transformation of services, including replacing psychiatric and similar institutions with inclusive community support systems and mainstream services, such as community-based services, income support, housing assistance, peer support and other support networks.

It provides a checklist to be used by countries to assess and evaluate whether mental health-related legislation is compliant with international human rights obligations. In addition, the guidance sets out the importance of consulting persons with lived experience and their representative organizations as a critical part of this process, as well as the importance of public education and awareness on the human rights issues which arise in the context of mental health.

For more information:

UN Human Rights Office: Liz Throssell - +41 22 917 9296 / [email protected]
WHO: [email protected]

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