A Human Rights Approach to Mental Health

In 2017 a UN Human Rights Council Report called for a “revolution” in mental health care—to “enable a long overdue shift to a rights-based approach.” As the Special Rapporteur explains:

“Mental health policies and services are in crisis—not a crisis of chemical imbalances, but of power imbalances. We need bold political commitments, urgent policy responses and immediate remedial action.” (source)

While this human-rights based approach has been embraced in Europe, it appears beyond the grasp of policymakers within the United States where these issues are widely under-recognized. For example, NPR acknowledged Judi Chamberlin—an early US social justice organizer among individuals identified with mental health challenges—as a “civil rights hero from a civil rights movement you may have never heard of.”

While we see opportunities in 2018 for more progress, at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center we have been working for years toward goals consistent with this recent UN human rights mandate. This includes providing workshops for trainees and staff in mental health recovery and trauma-informed, rights-based approaches to suicide prevention (Part 1, Part 2, “Toward a More Trauma-Informed and Recovery-Oriented Practice…”). We also offer several forms of peer support (also see About Experiential Peer Support) which have been developed through open participation in the peer/lived experience movement(s).

According to the UN report, both the availability of peer support alternatives and the training provided within the CWC are “critical indicators” of this shift towards a rights-based approach to mental health care. We at the CWC are proud to be taking genuine steps to respond to this mandate for a “revolution” in mental health care.

Authors: Jim Probert, PhD, clinical associate professor and co-coordinator of the peer support program at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center; and Sara Nash, PhD, LMHC, clinical assistant professor, CERC assistant coordinator and co-coordinator of the peer support program at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center.

The original version of this article was featured in Mental Health Weekly (Volume 28 Number 1, January 1, 2018) and is based on “Challenges and Opportunities Awaiting the Field in 2018” published by Drs. Probert and Nash which highlights relevant statements from the 2017 UN Human Rights Council Report.