Mental Health

Mental health is a human rights issue

In 2003, Amnesty International Ireland began its campaign on mental health in Ireland with a series of reports, Mental Illness: The Neglected Quarter. These reports outlined concerns at the treatment in Ireland of people with mental health problems, and measures them against international human rights standards. Our campaign had two objectives: to raise political and public awareness that mental health is a neglected human rights issue; and to get a new government mental health policy that was human rights based and cross-departmental.

In 2006, the Irish Government committed itself to a new blueprint for mental health, A Vision for Change. It promised reform of mental health in Ireland and a person centred approach. We called for Government action to implement this policy and to address the chronic under-funding in mental health in order for reforms to happen. We published a policy briefing that set out a blueprint for how A Vision for Change should be implemented. We also co-founded the Irish Mental Health Coalition, which later became  Mental Health Reform.

Between late 2008 until June 2013 we stepped up our campaigning work on mental health and human rights. We used the human rights framework to demand action from the Government. We sought a social approach in response to mental health that is focused on people’s rights, in particular the right to live a full life in the community and the right to choice in treatment.

The right to the highest attainable standard of mental health does not just mean effective mental health services. It also means that you must have access to fundamental human rights like employment, housing and education. We outlined specific actions for key Government departments in our report The Missing Link: coordinated Government action on mental health.

In Ireland, there is little research about the nature, extent and impact of discrimination that people with mental health problems face, especially from the perspective of that group itself. We commissioned Dublin City University’s School of Nursing to interview more than 300 people with mental health problems about their experience of unfair treatment in Ireland today.

We launched a three-year public advertising campaign challenging mental health prejudice and discrimination. Independent market research found that those exposed to our campaign were more likely to agree that mental health prejudice and discrimination exists and to understand that recovery from mental health problems is possible.

Our campaign for a review of the 2001 Mental Health Act was successful, with the Department of Health’s review being completed in 2015. We also campaigned successfully, together with our partners on the Capacity Coalition we co-founded, for improvements in the legislation that would become the 2015 Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act.

In 2013, we wound the campaign down, but still work on some aspects such as mental health legislation and Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We remain a member of Mental Health Reform.

Our work on the mental health campaign was thanks to the generous support of the Atlantic Philanthropies foundation.