On October 9, 2023, the World Health Organization and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a joint publication on mental health and human rights for legislators, policymakers, professionals, and advocacy groups. The three overarching goals of the guidance are “to support countries to transform their 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.” In their press release, the OHCHR noted that human rights violations within mental health care are “still far too common” with inhumane conditions and various types of abuse present in mental health services around the globe. Despite the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “too few [countries] have adopted or amended the relevant laws and policies on the scale needed to end violations and promote the human right to mental health.”
The new guidelines seek to support transformation not just within mental health systems themselves, but also across a wide variety of related social contexts that impact mental health, including “poverty, housing, inequality and discrimination.” The broad transformational reach of the guidelines is intended to decrease the prevalence of poor mental health, alleviating pressure on the world’s health care sectors from poor mental health and leading to fewer human rights violations within the mental health context. Further, the WHO and OHCHR guidelines are flexible to ensure that local contexts and concerns can be accounted for in any new legislation, enabling the global community to build safer, more robust, and effective systems and care.