A Rights-Based Approach to Disability in the Context of Mental Health


UNICEF Disability Section, Programme Division is launching a discussion paper on “A Rights-Based Approach to Disability in the Context of Mental Health” as a Supplement to the MHPSS Technical Note (2019). The paper aims to contribute to UNICEF’s efforts in mainstreaming mental health and psychosocial support across its sectors by providing a general overview on how to ensure a rights-based approach to disability in the context of mental health.

Mental health is attracting increasing international attention, particularly since the COVID-19 crisis. The health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic are taking a toll on the mental health of the population, and there is already evidence of increasing demand for mental health and psychosocial support, including for children. This presents an opportunity to expand and improve mental health services and support; at the same time, the question remains on how to ensure a rights-based approach in such services so the rights of people with disabilities are adequately respected.

As many human rights bodies and experts have noted, there are still significant human rights challenges associated with the provision of mental health services, such as stigma, discrimination, abuse, coercion, and institutionalization. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) questions all these practices and calls for a paradigm shift in mental health and psychosocial support. In this regard, this new UNICEF discussion paper provides different entry points to bring mental health provision in line with the CRPD standards.

Based on a theory of change, the discussion paper recommends several actions to strengthen UNICEF’s work in realizing the right to mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children and young people from a rights-based approach. These recommendations cover six key areas: i) improving law and policy response; ii) ending coercion in mental health; iii) interventions beyond mental health services; iv) improving participation; v) accountability and monitoring, and vi) awareness-raising to address stigma and discrimination.

The discussion paper intends to stimulate dialogue and a common understanding of the existing opportunities and challenges related to persons with psychosocial disabilities within the UNICEF programmatic and operational agenda.


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