Mental Health and COVID-19 Focus of Health and Human Rights Journal’s Largest Issue

The June issue of the Health and Human Rights Journal (HHRJ) is especially timely with a special section on mental health and human rights. It was published shortly after the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged the international community to do much more to protect all those facing mounting mental health pressures as a result of COVID-19, and the World Health Organization published guidelines for communities to support people experiencing mental distress. The UN also passed a resolution on mental health and human rights in May.

Guest Editor of the HHRJ Special Section, Dainius Pūras, special rapporteur on the right to health, said the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental health care. The editorial, co-authored by fellow editors Audrey Chapman, Julie Hannah and Carmel Williams, reflects on the urgent need for global conversations, social justice activism, and community cooperation. “COVID-19 has cruelly demonstrated our interconnectedness, our shared humanity, and our shared suffering. It has equally illuminated the injustice of our economic and political systems and the cruelty of the inequality and systemic discrimination they have produced. The UN and many others are also acknowledging the long-lasting impact that the pandemic will have on our mental well-being.”

The Special Section, planned long before the world had encountered the novel coronavirus, invited papers that demonstrate a different approach to mental health care¾one which was not preoccupied with excessive biomedical interventions, psychotropic medications and non-consensual measures. The editors write that the pandemic presents not just the opportunity, but the necessity of providing a different form of care and support for the millions of people who are now suffering its consequences. The collection of 15 papers in this section demonstrate the role of human rights as envisaged by people using mental health services, by people providing services, and by a broad movement seeking to shift the entire paradigm of mental health away from focusing on biology and brains to focusing on relationships and other social determinants of health.

Viewpoints, a new feature in this issue, began in December 2019 as a celebration of the Journal’s 25-year anniversary. Published initially online, a selection will also be presented in each issue. The expeditious publishing schedule of these short papers has provided an excellent platform for discussion on the health and human rights implications of COVID-19. Included in the 18 Viewpoints published in the June issue is a paper from the FXB Center’s Margareta Matache and Jacqueline Bhabha on Anti-Roma Racism in the Time of COVID.

The general papers section includes an additional 12 papers, making this issue of the Journal, at 45 articles, the largest in its 25-year history. Editor-in-Chief Paul Farmer co-authored “Global Health in the Age of COVID-19: Responsive Health Systems Through a Right to Health Fund,” which calls for a civil society-led multi-stakeholder process to further conceptualize, and then launch, a right to health fund to help create a world where, whether during a health emergency or in ordinary times, no one is left behind.

Photo Credit: Maria Oswalt