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Health Law and Policy, The World Health Organization (WHO), mental health; a priority for global health promotion and international development; promulgation of evidence-based medical practices, health systems reform, respect for human rights


The World Health Organization (WHO) has in the last decade identified mental health as a priority for global health promotion and international development, to be targeted through promulgation of evidence-based medical practices, health systems reform, and respect for human rights. Yet these overlapping strategies are marked by tensions as the historical primacy of expert-led initiatives is increasingly subject to challenge by new social movements — in particular, disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs). These tensions come into focus upon situating the WHO’s contributions to the analysis of global mental health in light of the negotiation and early stages of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Arguably as a function of unprecedented participation of those most directly affected, the CRPD has generated controversies about the implications of recognizing persons with disabilities, and in particular, psychosocial disabilities, as bearers of inter-related social, economic and cultural human rights. These controversies may be regarded as inevitable byproducts of the CRPD’s fragile reconciliation of historically polarized ideas and interests. My discussion makes particular note of contestation around Articles 14 and 17 (liberty and integrity of the person) and Article 12 (equal legal capacity).

I argue that the inclusive negotiation history of the CRPD, and more immediately, the important obligations the convention imposes with regard to participatory implementation, hold out much promise for vindicating the rightful status of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities as political actors and so equal legal subjects rather than objects of others’ (well- or ill-intentioned) interventions. The controversies discussed herein may be regarded as illustrative of the CRPD’s function in operationalizing political agency among persons historically relegated to categories of disability deemed inconsistent with agency. But the question remains: what are the implications for global mental health policy?


From Selected Works of Sheila Wildeman.

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