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Missing in action: the right to the highest attainable standard of mental health care.


BACKGROUND: The right to the highest attainable standard of mental health remains a distant goal worldwide. The Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of all people to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health pleaded the urgent need for governments to act through appropriate laws and policies. We argue that Australia is in breach of international obligations, with inadequate access to mental health services, inconsistent mental health legislation across jurisdictions and ongoing structural (systematic) and individual discrimination.

DISCUSSION: Inadequate access to mental health services is a worldwide phenomenon. Australia has committed to international law obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to 'promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disability, with respect to their inherent dignity'. This includes people with mental health impairment and this convention includes the right to 'the highest attainable standard of mental health'. Under the Australian Constitution, ratification of this convention enables the national government to pass laws to implement the convention obligations, and such national laws would prevail over any inconsistent state (or territory) laws governing mental health service provision. The authors argue that enabling positive rights through legislation and legally binding mental health service standards may facilitate enhanced accountability and enforcement of such rights. These steps may support critical key stakeholders to improve the standards of mental health service provision supported by the implementation of international obligations, thereby accelerating mental health system reform. Improved legislation would encourage better governance and the evolution of better services, making mental health care more accessible, without structural or individual discrimination, enabling all people to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

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Journal Article
Song Y
Rosenberg S
Smith B
Occhipinti J
Mendoza J
Freebairn L
Skinner A
Hickie I

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