Mental health care respectful of human rights proves successful

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jun 11, 2021

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GLOBALLY most of mental health care continues to be provided in psychiatric hospitals, and human rights abuses and coercive practices remain too common.

But providing community-based mental health care that is respectful of human rights and focused on recovery is proving successful and cost-effective, according to new guidance released on Thursday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO’s new “Guidance on community mental health services: promoting person-centred and rights-based approaches” finds that mental health care must be grounded in a human rights-based approach.

According to its latest estimates, governments spend less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health.

The majority of reported expenditure on mental health is allocated to psychiatric hospitals, except in high-income countries where the figure is about 43%, they noted.

The new guidance, which is intended primarily for people with responsibility for organising and managing mental health care, presents details of what is required in areas such as mental health law, policy and strategy, service delivery, financing, workforce development and civil society participation in order for mental health services to be compliant with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

It includes examples from countries including Brazil, India, Kenya, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway and the UK of community-based mental health services that have demonstrated good practices in respect of non-coercive practices, community inclusion, and respect of people’s legal capacity (ie the right to make decisions about their treatment and life).

Services include crisis support, mental health services provided within general hospitals, outreach services, supported living approaches and support provided by peer groups.

Information about financing and results of evaluations of the services presented are included.

Cost comparisons provided indicate that the community-based services showcased produce good outcomes, are preferred by service users and can be provided at comparable cost to mainstream mental health services.

“Transformation of mental health service provision must, however, be accompanied by significant changes in the social sector,” said Gerard Quinn, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Until that happens, the discrimination that prevents people with mental health conditions from leading full and productive lives will continue.”

Dr Michelle Funk of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, who led the development of the guidance, said: “This comprehensive new guidance provides a strong argument for a much faster transition from mental health services that use coercion and focus almost exclusively on the use of medication to manage symptoms of mental health conditions, to a more holistic approach that takes into account the specific circumstances and wishes of the individual and offers a variety of approaches for treatment and support.”

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