Santa Rose Mary, child rights advocate from Uganda, speaking at the HRC’s panel discussion on cyberbullying against children on 27 September 2023.

Transforming Mental Health, a Rights-Based Approach To Ending Human Rights Abuses

-Why Should Ugandans Care?

By Insight Post Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) just launched a new guidance titled Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation: GGuidance and Practice.”

This collaborative initiative aims to provide comprehensive support to countries in reforming their legislation to eradicate human rights abuses and enhance access to high-quality mental health care.

Globally, one in eight people globally lives with a mental health condition, with women and young people impacted the most and many facing stigma and discrimination.

According to WHO, individuals with mental health conditions continue to face distressing human rights abuses and coercive practices within the framework of existing legislation and policies.

These abuses include involuntary hospitalisation, substandard living conditions, and physical, psychological, and emotional mistreatment. These practices perpetuate the stigmatisation and marginalisation of people with mental health conditions.

Despite some progress since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006, many countries like Uganda have not taken adequate steps to amend or adopt laws and policies that would effectively address these abuses.

According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, mental health is an integral and essential component of the right to health. The new guidance seeks to empower countries to implement crucial changes necessary for providing dignified and effective mental health care that supports individuals’ recovery journeys.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, emphasises the need to shift the underlying values of mental health services towards a more responsive and rights-based approach. The publication offers invaluable guidance on how such a transformation can be achieved.

Community-Based Mental Health Care

One key shift advocated by the guidance is the redirection of government expenditure from psychiatric hospitals towards community-based mental health care. Currently, a significant portion of mental health funding (43% in high-income countries) goes to psychiatric hospitals, even though evidence highlights the superior accessibility, cost-efficiency, and effectiveness of community-based services.

The guidance further outlines steps to expedite deinstitutionalisation and the adoption of a rights-based community approach to mental health care. This includes the gradual replacement of psychiatric institutions with inclusive community support systems, as well as the integration of services like income support, housing assistance, and peer support networks.

Ending Coercive Practices

Another vital aspect of the guidance is the call to end coercive practices in mental health care. These practices, such as involuntary detention, forced treatment, seclusion, and restraints, infringe upon individuals’ rights to make informed decisions about their healthcare and treatment choices.

Additionally, extensive evidence demonstrates the harmful impact of coercive practices on both physical and mental health, exacerbating existing conditions and isolating individuals from their support systems.

The guidance puts forward legislative provisions aimed at eradicating coercion in mental health services and establishing free and informed consent as the cornerstone of all mental health interventions. It also offers guidance on handling complex cases within legislation and policies without resorting to coercive practices.

Rights-Based Approach

Recognising that mental health is a responsibility shared by various sectors beyond healthcare, this guidance targets legislators and policy-makers involved in drafting, amending, and implementing laws affecting mental health.

This, according to the guidance, encompasses legislation addressing poverty, inequality, and discrimination, as these factors often intersect with mental health issues.

The guidance also presents a checklist to help countries assess whether their mental health-related legislation aligns with international human rights obligations. Furthermore, it underscores the importance of involving individuals with lived experience and their representative organisations in the decision-making process, as well as the significance of public education and awareness concerning rights-based issues.

While the guidance proposes a set of principles and provisions for inclusion in national legislation, it emphasises that countries can adapt and tailor these to their specific circumstances without compromising human rights standards.

Social Media, Cyberbulling

In today’s digital age, while the internet has definitely enhanced our lives in numerous ways, it’s imperative to acknowledge its potential adverse effects on our mental well-being.

Social media has undeniably become a powerful tool for connection and information sharing, enabling us to share vacation photos, discover culinary delights, and stay updated on the latest trends with ease. However, beneath this virtual world lurks a hidden danger, as experts caution against the detrimental effects of excessive social media use on our mental health.

Cyberbullying can exacerbate existing mental health difficulties to a considerable extent, inflicting profound and harmful effects on the emotional well-being of its victims.

According to UNICEF findings, approximately 130 million students globally experience bullying, a problem that has been amplified by the proliferation of digital technologies. UNICEF estimates that one out of every three students aged 13 to 15 falls victim to bullying.

During a recent Council session, Santa Rose Mary, a 15-year-old children’s advocate from Uganda, shared a heartfelt testimony. She emphasised that once personal information or intimate photos are shared online, individuals often find it challenging to face their own communities or even their parents. Such situations can lead children to contemplate suicide when they feel unwanted in their community.

According to Nada Al-Nashif, the UN Deputy Human Rights Chief, cyberbullying affects girls almost twice as much as boys, as per the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Al-Nashif referenced research from the WHO indicating that bullying victims are more likely to skip school, perform poorly in tests, experience sleep disturbances, and suffer from psychosomatic pain. Furthermore, some studies suggest long-term consequences, including a higher prevalence of depression and unemployment.

She stressed that cyberbullying is a complex issue at the intersection of human rights, digital technology, and policy, emphasising the importance of a holistic approach that addresses root causes and places a central focus on the voices of children.

Additionally, she highlighted the significant role and responsibility of tech companies in the online space, urging them to provide privacy tools and adhere to content moderation guidelines in accordance with international human rights standards.

During the discussion, a representative from Meta, Safety Policy Director Deepali Liberhan, noted that in the third quarter of 2023 alone, approximately 15 million pieces of content on Meta’s platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, were identified as instances of bullying and harassment.

Most of these were proactively removed by Meta before being reported. Liberhan highlighted Meta’s content moderation policies, collaboration with experts to inform its actions, and the integration of anti-bullying tools into the user experience.

Philip Jaffé, a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, emphasised the collective responsibility for ensuring the safety of children. He stressed the need to raise children’s awareness of their rights and make states and society as a whole more conscious of their obligations to protect children.

Back Home In Uganda

Claire Nasasira from the Black Mental Health Movement (BMHM), says that extensive research has meticulously examined the consequences of scrolling, liking, and commenting on our brains, and the findings are concerning. She adds that overexposure to social media has been linked to heightened feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

“Nevertheless, there is hope. We can navigate social media mindfully to protect our precious psyche. This involves setting boundaries for social media use, curating our feeds to emphasise positivity, and fostering meaningful offline connections,” she noted.

Jamiruh Kalanzi the Director of Mutaka Foundation maintains that while social media can be a powerful platform when used responsibly, it’s crucial to understand that real life unfolds offline. We must filter out the unrealistic portrayals and remember our uniqueness, imperfections, and inherent worth.

Kalanzi, also a retired journalist, says that practising mindful media consumption, setting boundaries, and prioritising mental well-being by engaging in activities that promote positivity and self-care can help mitigate the impact of negative media content on mental health. Taking care of one’s mental health is as crucial as caring for physical health.

“Positive portrayals of mental health in media can reduce stigma, increase awareness, and provide valuable information and resources for those facing mental health challenges. We need to look at objective media content, including inspirational stories, educational materials, and self-care guidance. This can inspire, educate, and promote self-care and mindfulness,” he explains.

According to John Mwangi, the Founder of  Psychological Development and Response Organisation, the mental health implications of social media are profound, and they encompass multiple dimensions. Cyberbullying, which often thrives due to internet anonymity, can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Additionally, he says, the misrepresentation and lack of diversity in media portrayals of mental health conditions can perpetuate misconceptions and stigmatise those affected. It’s important to approach media and social media consumption critically, be mindful of our own mental well-being, and prioritise self-care.

Prominent journalist Brygettes Ngana from Nation Media – Kenya, believes that critical evaluation of media portrayals of mental health is essential in mitigating these negative effects. 

She adds that seeking accurate and nuanced representations, supporting media that fosters empathy and understanding, and engaging in open conversations about mental health can contribute to a more positive and informed media landscape.


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