Subscribe X
Back to Top


June 24, 2020 by Peter Stastny et al | Health & Human Rights Journal

Crisis Response as a Human Rights Flashpoint: Critical Elements of Community Support for Individuals Experiencing Significant Emotional Distress


This paper proposes a set of nine critical elements underpinned by human rights principles to support individuals experiencing a serious crisis related to mental health problems or psychosocial disabilities. These elements are distilled from a range of viable alternatives to traditional community mental health approaches and are linked to a normative human rights framework. We argue that crisis response is one of the areas of mental health care where there is a heightened risk that the rights of service recipients may be infringed. We further make the case that the nine critical elements found in advanced mental health care models should be used as building blocks for designing services and systems that promote effective rights-based care and supports.


Over the last two decades, the United Nations and other organizations have released a number of groundbreaking reports documenting widespread, systemic human rights abuses within mental health systems worldwide.1 Overall, these documents emphasize the need to seek better health and social outcomes through sustainable means, using a human rights-based approach in keeping with the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the right to health framework. These normative standards, along with persistent calls by service users and advocates, have brought attention to the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, particularly the right to freedom from coercion in mental health services. They provide the impetus to find suitable practices to transform and modernize mental health care in communities everywhere.

However, the form and substance of rights-based interventions through which mental health service providers, family members, and other engaged citizens might offer support, without resorting to coercive and dehumanizing interventions, remain unclear. While promising non-coercive interventions for persons experiencing serious emotional crises have been piloted in several countries, usually as alternatives to involuntary hospitalization, better evaluation and research is needed to increase their potential for widespread implementation.2 And although recent publications argue for such rights-based approaches, how to operationalize this evolving framework has yet to be described.3

The present paper fills this important gap by identifying a set of elements that are likely critical to rights-based support for individuals experiencing serious emotional crises, whether or not they use mental health services. The aim of this paper is to help ensure that a rights-based approach to crisis response becomes a distinct and crucial operational component of mental health care. Crisis response is a human rights flashpoint where coercive structures and practices dominate and the human rights threat to individuals is consistently manifest.

Full article (PDF)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Blogs

  • Dr. David Healy

    Dr. David Healy

    Dr. Healy is a professor of psychiatry at Cardiff University in Wales and an author on the history of pharmaceuticals and government regulation.
  • Mad In America: Robert Whitaker

    Mad In America: Robert Whitaker

    Journalist and author Bob Whitaker distills the latest in pharmaceutical and mental health research.
  • Selling Sickness

    Selling Sickness

    Creating a new partnership movement to challenge the selling of sickness.
  • Kathy Brous

    Kathy Brous

    A serial of Kathy's recovery journey as an adult with attachment disorder.
  • Nev Jones

    Nev Jones

    Exploring the intersections of psychiatry, philosophy, neuroscience, cultural theory, critical community psychology and the mad/user/survivor movement.
  • 1boringoldman


    Retired psychiatrist and raconteur offers insightful analysis of the day's events from the woods of Georgia.