A right is an entitlement that one may legally or morally claim. Human rights are of particular importance in mental health care owing to the existence of laws that permit involuntary admission and treatment under certain circumstances, and compelling evidence of persistent social exclusion of some individuals with mental disorder. Ireland’s mental health legislation, which is currently under review, meets most international human rights standards in areas of traditional concern (involuntary admission and treatment) but not in other areas (especially social and economic rights). These deficits would be addressed, at least in part, by replacing the principle of ‘best interests’ with the principle of ‘dignity’ as the over-arching principle in Irish mental health legislation. Such a change would help ensure that decisions made under the legislation actively facilitate individuals with mental disorder to exercise their capabilities, help promote human rights and protect dignity. Even following such a reform, however, it is neither practical nor realistic to expect mental health legislation alone to protect and promote all of the broader rights of individuals with mental disorder, especially social and economic rights. Some rights are better protected, and some needs better met, through social policy, mental health policy and broader societal awareness and reform.