Here in South Australia we have watched the debate of what makes an effective mental health system revolve around clinical and hospital care. The latest report from the World Health Organisation shows us we are not alone.

They found globally we still have mental health systems that continue to be provided in psychiatric hospitals where human rights abuses and coercive practices remain all too common. 

WHO has now released a guide specifically for mental health organisations who are organizing and managing mental health care. It details what is required in areas such as mental health law, policy and strategy, service delivery, financing, workforce development and civil society to deliver person-centred support and rights-based approaches.

Its key highlights are:

  • Health systems around the world in low-, middle- and high-income countries increasingly understand the need to provide high quality, person-centred, recovery-oriented mental health services that protect and promote people’s human rights. 


  • Governments, health and social care professionals, NGOs, organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) and other civil society actors and stakeholders can make significant strides towards improving the health and well-being of their populations by taking decisive action to introduce and scale up good practice services and supports for mental health into broader social systems while protecting and promoting human rights. 


  • This guidance presents key recommendations for countries and organizations, showing specific actions and changes required in mental health policy and strategy, law reform, service delivery, financing, workforce development, psychosocial and psychological interventions, psychotropic drugs, information systems, civil society and community involvement, and research. Crucially, significant effort is needed by countries to align legal frameworks with the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). 


  • Meaningful changes are also required for policy, strategy and system issues. Through the creation of joint policy and with strong collaboration between health and social sectors, countries will be better able to address the key determinants of mental health. Many countries have successfully used shifts in financing, policy and law as a powerful lever for mental health system reform. Placing human rights and recovery approaches at the forefront of these system reforms has the potential to bring substantial social, economic and political gains to governments and communities. In order to successfully integrate a person-centred, recovery-oriented and rights-based approach in mental health, countries must change and broaden mindsets, address stigmatizing attitudes and eliminate coercive practices. As such, it is critical that mental health systems and services widen their focus beyond the biomedical model to also include a more holistic approach that considers all aspects of a person’s life. Current practice in all parts of the world, however, places psychotropic drugs at the centre of treatment responses whereas psychosocial interventions, psychological interventions and peer support should also be explored and offered in the context of a person-centred, recovery and rights-based approach.  These changes will require significant shifts in the knowledge, competencies and skills of the health and social services workforce. 


  • More broadly, efforts are also required to create inclusive societies and communities where diversity is accepted, and the human rights of all people are respected and promoted. Changing negative attitudes and discriminatory practices is essential not just within health and social care settings, but also within the community as a whole. Campaigns raising awareness of the rights of people with lived experience are critical in this respect, and civil society groups can play a key strategic role in advocacy. Further, as mental health research has been dominated by the biomedical paradigm in recent decades, there is a paucity of research examining human rights-based approaches in mental health. A significant increase in investment is needed worldwide in studies examining rights-based approaches, assessing comparative costs of service provision and evaluating their recovery outcomes in comparison to biomedical-based approaches. Such a reorientation of research priorities will create a solid foundation for a truly rights-based approach to mental health and social protection systems and services.


  • Finally, development of a human rights agenda and recovery approach cannot be attained without the active participation of individuals with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities. People with lived experience are experts and necessary partners to advocate for the respect of their rights, but also for the development of services and opportunities that are most responsive to their actual needs. Countries with a strong and sustained political commitment to continuous development of community based mental health services that respect human rights and adopt a recovery approach will vastly improve not only the lives of people with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities, but also their families, communities and societies as a whole.   

You can read the full report here.