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Health

The World Must Change the Way It Addresses Mental Health, Says UN Special Rapporteur


Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals provide a framework to protect the health of all people around the world, whether mental or physical. At a time when COVID-19 is wreaking havoc globally, we must consider and address the impact of this crisis on the mental health of the world's most vulnerable. You can help us by taking action here to help achieve the UN's Global Goals and end extreme poverty by 2030.

UN Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, Dainius Pūras, has warned against “outdated” approaches to mental health around the world.

Commenting on a report shared with the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, he emphasized that while much progress had been made in recent years to safeguard mental health — including through “impressive worldwide initiatives” such as the Agenda 2030 — the global community still has a long way to go to ensure equal rights for people experiencing mental illness.

“I welcome the international recognition of mental health, but much more is still needed,” Pūras said

He added: “The global mental health status quo should move away from the outdated ‘mad or bad’ approach which seeks to prevent behaviours deemed as ‘dangerous’, or provide treatment considered ‘medically necessary’ without consent.”

Despite promising trends, the UN report highlights a global failure to address human rights violations in mental health care systems, which result in a “vicious cycle of discrimination, disempowerment, coercion, social exclusion, and injustice.” 

It further urges the global community to embrace a rights-based approach that supports the dignity and well-being of all.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), many people with mental illnesses do not receive proper treatment because of the stigma surrounding mental health, as well as negative or discriminatory experiences with health care practitioners. This, in turn, prevents many from having equal access to effective health care — no matter their status or geographical location.

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And while much remains unknown about the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say it could well exacerbate these already existing inequalities.

The WHO stresses that the disruption of daily routines, the measures designed to contain the spread of the COVID-19, and the uncertainty surrounding it, can all increase stress and anxiety levels among certain groups such as young people, the elderly, and women.

In fact, countries like France have already reported a significant increase in anxiety and depression across the entire population. Similarly, 52% of Canadians have also indicated that their mental health was either "somewhat worse" or "much worse" than before the pandemic, according to a recent study from Statistics Canada.

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With lockdowns slowly being lifted around the world, mental health has seen a slight improvement in some countries such as France; still, the UN report calls on the global community to address this challenge as soon as possible, before it gets worse.

According to the report, “important challenges and opportunities related to mental health are expected and these should be taken into account now.”