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International human rights and community mental health 

International human rights and community mental health
International human rights and community mental health
Oxford Textbook of Community Mental Health

Oliver Lewis

and Peter Bartlett


This chapter concerns human rights relating to people with mental health problems living in the community. It seeks to explain how international human rights law can work in a variety of ways to foster a person’s equal right to live in the community on an equal basis, with choices equal to others.

Each individual country may have legislation and policy to underpin community living. These may include social security payments and personal budgets to help people live independently, housing arrangements, provision of personal assistance and other supports, as well as non-discrimination provisions relating to vocational training and employment, and more widely to the provision of all goods and services. Such legislation and policy are essential in setting and regulating standards of human rights at the domestic level. These arrangements differ widely between countries, and for practical reasons a comparative analysis lies outside the scope of this chapter.

Instead, this chapter concerns the layers of international law and standards that sit above domestic law, directing and influencing domestic law and policy in order to bring about positive changes to the lived experiences of persons with mental health problems living in the community. The second section of the chapter (‘International human rights law’) is a primer on the treaties, how they are monitored, and how they apply to people with mental health problems living in the community. The third section (‘The dawn of a new era?’) introduces elements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereinafter ‘CRPD’), and examines its philosophical underpinnings, the obligations on the State to implement it, and sets out its innovative features at the domestic level to coordinate policy action and to monitor implementation. It also outlines the Optional Protocol to the CRPD and the international mechanism established to monitor State compliance. The fourth section (‘Human rights underpinning community mental health’) explains some of the CRPD rights which impact upon community mental health, and the next three sections (‘Right to health’, ‘Right to live in the community’, and ‘Right to legal capacity’) provide an analysis of three of these rights in more depth. The conclusion in the final section suggests actions which community mental health practitioners could take in order to ensure that the State respects, protects, and fulfils the rights of people with mental health problems in the community.

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