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Mental health advocacy & human rights: your guide

This guide is written by the British Institute of Human Rights,as part of its Human Rights in Healthcare project. Funded by the Department of Health, the project has worked with 20 voluntary and community sector organisations in England over three years to explore how human rights can assist with the provision of better health and social care services. This guide is written in partnership with several organisations on that project, who work on mental health, including Mind in Brighton and Hove, Wish and NSUN.

The guide is designed to assist advocates working with service users with mental health problems. Much of the information will also be directly relevant to service users, in particular the sections ‘How the Human Rights Act works’ on page 7 and ‘Key human rights relevant to mental health’ on page 9. The guide is mostly written directly to service users, ie yourrights and your health.

No knowledge of human rights or the Human Rights Act (HRA) is assumed. But it should also be of use to those with some human rights knowledge, in particular the practical sections towards the end of the guide. It is designed to allow readers to ‘dip in and out’. If you don’t have time to read the whole guide, see the contents page for the parts most relevant to you.

We have used the term ‘public authority’ throughout the guide, as a short-hand for bodies who have duties under UK human rights laws. However, it is not just public authorities that have those duties. Anybody carrying out a ‘public function’ will also have duties (see page 7).

The guide also contains real life examples of how advocates have used human rights to secure better treatment for people with mental health problems. Often raising an issue in human rights terms, as a legal right, can help resolve problems. However, human rights are not a magic wand. Sometimes a

problem cannot be resolved on a local advocacy level, and some issues are too complex or serious to be resolved in this way. The Human Rights Act in the UK offers the backup of the law, as a last resort.

We use the term ‘mental health’ throughout the guide to include anyone who may be covered by mental health law. Under the Mental Health Act, this means “any disorder or disability of mind”. This can include eating disorders, depression, autistic-spectrum disorder, dementia, behaviour changes caused by brain damage, and personality disorders. It can also include learning disabilities if these are associated with abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible behaviour.