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13th March 2016

Rights in Mental Health Support Services

Scottish charities involved in support and advocacy in mental health have launched a 19 point charter of rights for service users.

The launch event took place on 22 February 2016. The rights are not new, but are based on existing legislation and international agreements on rights which should govern people’s expectations on how they are supported with mental health issues. The charities concerned included See Me, Voices of experience, and the Scottish Recovery Network.

Issues for people using mental health services

There was recognition that people’s rights were often unrecognised and unmet in this sector. Either services may not know about, or ignore people's rights, or people themselves were unaware of their rights. To fill in the gaps, a major conference and consultation exercise called ‘Rights to Life’ was held in 2015, involving organisations, advocates, service users and guest speakers. This led to the formulation of the charter, and its official launch this year.

The issues, as posted on the website, pose barriers to people having their normal rights implemented. This issues include that:

  • ‘People with experience of mental health issues:
    • Face unacceptably high levels of stigma and discrimination;
    • Can die 20 years younger, are poorer on average and have fewer opportunities in life than the general population;
    • Can have their rights legally limited as a consequence of poor mental health, and laws designed to protect their rights are ignored with impunity;
    • Are excluded from decision-making processes that affect their lives;
    • Are denied access to timely, acceptable, quality care and support.’

Rights covered in the Charter

The outcome was this year's launch of the Rights for Life Declaration and Change agenda. The rights, which were outlined also in Plain English, include:

  • Dignity and respect;
  • The highest standard of physical and mental health support and treatment;
  • Equal partnership in developing and providing services (co-production);
  • Clear information;
  • Remedies when rights are breached;
  • Advocacy services, both personal and collective;
  • Equal treatment and legal protection;
  • Access to education, employment, family life, freedom from torture or abuse, and a good standard of living.

The agenda for change

Admirably, the charter was accompanied by a Change Agenda to ensure that organisations moved ahead in fully implementing these rights. It is described as 'just a start', since many ideas were put forward and will be further developed.

The main points on the agenda call for Government support to have people’s rights recognised and promoted. This would include: a high level commission to examine what people affected by mental health issues say they require through their life stages; current national strategy to have rights embedded as an integral part of policy; legislation to be based on UN recognised rights; better involvement, accountability, and formal education to include mental health issues.


This is a well-conceived and inclusive initiative. It seems likely to bring about significant change and improvement in people's lives where they experience mental health issues. We all have a stake in ensuring that its messages are heard and acted upon.

Tony Clarke – QCS Expert Scottish Care Contributor

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