What we really need is support, not coercion – Mental Heath Europe on Human Rights Day


On Human Rights Day, Mental Health Europe – the largest independent organisation active in the field of mental health in Europe – urges the European States to promote mental health services that respect human rights.

One in six people in the EU (nearly 84 million citizens) has mental health problems. The right to the highest attainable standard of health, including mental health, is a fundamental right of every human being. Yet, too often mental health services across Europe violate the rights and autonomy of people with mental ill-health. Evidence reveals disturbing trends in the overuse of coercion, forced treatment and involuntary hospitalisation throughout Europe. Non-consensual, coercive practices in mental health remain a common interference with human rights standards and international obligations.

“Coercion in mental healthcare feels like being punished for having problems. What people really need is support, not coercion,” says Jolijn Santegoeds from the Netherlands who is a user and a survivor of psychiatric services. At the age of 16, Jolijn had to face a range of forced and degrading practices while undergoing psychiatric treatment.

“Violence in psychiatry is ubiquitous. They hold us with mental belts to reality. They talk about us without us. They do everything so we cannot integrate back into society, depriving us of personality and individuality. They often take away our dignity by forcing us to take medication. They do it with stubbornness and without thinking about the violence that comes within,” adds another user of psychiatric services from Poland.

Despite flaws of the current systems, there are positive evidence-based examples of reduction and elimination of coercion in mental health from 15 European countries and beyond. To turn the tide, these examples need to be mainstreamed and scaled up.

Discover positive examples in prevention, reduction and elimination of coercion
“Ending coercion is not about changing individual practices; it is about implementing a new culture in mental health care,” says Claudia Marinetti, Mental Health Europe’s Director. “By highlighting these promising practices, we want to shine a spotlight on a new paradigm, in which services promote recovery and emphasize the autonomy, empowerment and participation of service users. Change of mindsets and the enactment of positive reforms in line with a human rights framework is possible if the governments, policy-makers and stakeholders see the change first-hand.”

Human rights in mental health will be a subject addressed in the European Parliament today, where members of MHE’s Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing and stakeholders will discuss how to move towards human rights-compliant mental health systems across Europe.

Ahead of Human Rights Day, the event’s host Brando Benifei MEP (S&D, Italy) said: “As stated in the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, people with psychosocial disabilities must fully enjoy their human rights, including their right to adequate healthcare based on free and informed consent. Human Rights Day provides us with an opportunity to urge the European Union to move towards services that are recovery-oriented, community-based and socially inclusive in all Member States, in line with human rights norms.”

You can follow the event discussions from 10:30 CET on 10 December 2019 via #MentalHealthRightsEU