The WHO and the United Nations: let freedom ring for the mad


Two years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a 300-page document titled “Guidance to Community Health Services” that called for a paradigm shift in psychiatric care, with the biomedical model replaced by one that promoted “Person-Centred and Rights-Based Approaches.” In our MIA Report on that publication, we described it as a call for “radical change in global mental health.”

That guidance came from a group at the WHO led by Michelle Funk, head of the Policy, Law, and Human Rights unit at the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. It was a bold document, and one that we at Mad in America celebrated, as it set forth an agenda for rethinking psychiatric care that was, in so many ways, consonant with the call for change that has motivated us since we founded our webzine more than a decade ago.

In October, the WHO and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights jointly published a lengthy document, Mental Health, Human Rights, and Legislation, that, at least at first glance, could be seen as a welcome follow-up to its 2021 report, with this one providing guidance for enacting legislation that would create “person-centred, recovery-oriented and rights-based mental health systems.” But once I read it, I had a different take: This is much more than a call for a “paradigm shift” in mental health care. It is a full-throated call for liberty and freedom for those that historically have been called “mad” (and today are deemed “seriously mentally ill”).

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