Moving Toward a Human Rights Approach to Mental Health on Campus and Beyond

Jim Probert, Ph.D.

This workshop will elaborate the presenter’s 2021 Community Mental Health Journal article, “Moving Toward a Human Rights Approach to Mental Health.” The University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center (UFCWC) has implemented programs to address human rights identified within advocacy groups comprised of individuals who have, ourselves, been diagnosed with mental illness. These programs are also moving the UFCWC toward fulfilling a 2017 United Nations report emphasizing rights-based professional training, provision of genuine informed consent, and availability of non-compromised peer support alternatives. Professional training seminars have supported trauma-informed, rights-based approaches to suicide prevention; an opening of dialogue to include evidence and position statements frequently not included in professional education; and reframing mental health recovery with an essential focus on reclaiming human rights. The presenter of the seminars--and this workshop--is a psychologist with lived experience of involuntary hospitalizations, forced medication, isolation and restraint, and diagnosis of non-consensus states as incurable mental illness. Collaborating with student peers, four UFCWC faculty members have facilitated forms of peer support developed within service-user movements, while openly identifying experiences of reclaiming our own lives from varying impacts of adversity, intense mental distress, and traumatizing responses of others to our distress.

Implementation of these programs may be better understood within a larger context of efforts intended to improve supports for vulnerable individuals, including many with marginalized social identities—efforts which are currently at risk. Still, UFCWC clinical services are being changed by the programs described in this workshop and by involvement of professionals openly communicating both our own lived experience and values clarified and strengthened through participation in service user movements.

Learning Objectives:

  • Participants should be able to recognize how rights-based professional training can contribute to movement toward both radical reduction in non-consensual clinical interventions and an increase in rights-based, trauma-informed support for service users.
  • Participants should be able to recognize how the availability of adequately non-compromised peer support alternatives—developed in movements led by users and former users of mental health services and facilitated by individuals with corresponding lived experience and training--can support cultivation of inclusion, healing, empowered self-direction, and existential-spiritual-cultural freedom among service users.
  • Participants may begin to imagine ways in which other professional agencies might advocate for, begin, or continue moving toward human rights approaches to mental health even in the face of ongoing, and in many cases, intensifying, obstacles.