Global and Regional Challenges on the Way to Implementation of the Right to Mental Health in Childhood and Adolescence


Vilnius University Faculty of Medicine Psychiatric Clinic, Vilnius, Lithuania
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Lithuania


Right to health framework is widely used by the UN mechanisms to address health policy priorities and to make recommendations to policy makers.  Many public health issues, such as maternal and child mortality, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, have been successfully addressed in global and national policy agendas, thus informing governments on how to invest in health. In this regard child mental health remains a neglected area.

Two reports of the Special rapporteur on the right to health, presented to UN bodies in 2015-2016, have addressed child mental health as a priority issue when the global community has moved to Agenda 2030 and SDGs.

The report on right to health on early childhood, presented in 2015 to the UN General Assembly, highlighted the need to promote emotional and social development of children and to address early childhood adversities. This report informed UN bodies and governments that the right to holistic development in childhood is as important as is the right to life and survival, and recommended to scale up effective interventions targeting families with young children. Cost-effective psychosocial interventions are not a luxury and should be provided and funded as an important element of investing in health, social cohesion, economic prosperity and peace.

The report on right to health in adolescence, presented in 2016 to UN Human Rights Council, focused on mental health and sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and urged governments to provide human rights friendly and confidential services to adolescents. Evolving capacities and emerging autonomy of adolescents need to be addressed. In many countries adolescent mental health services either do not exist, or they are represented by low quality residential and in-patient services that violate human rights, excessively use biomedical interventions and may be harmful. Such services need to be abandoned or transformed into good quality community based services which “first do no harm” and respect adolescents as holders of their rights.