Recognition of the effects of social, economic, political and cultural conditions on mental health and the personal, social and economic costs of a growing global mental health crisis (WHO, 2001; EC, 2005) mean that mental health and well-being are a current feature of social policy agendas at UK, European and world levels, with debate increasingly becoming framed in human rights terms. In the UK, policy drives to address social exclusion and health inequalities as key social and economic rights issues have encompassed attention to mental health and distress (DoH, 2003; Social Exclusion Unit, 2004) and mental health has been identified as a priority area for the new Equality and Human Rights Commission (Diamond, 2007; DRC, 2007). At the European level too, rights-based social policy approaches to promoting social cohesion (European Committee for Social Cohesion, 2004) and policy directives on the ‘right to health’ (Commission of the European Communities, 2007) have been centrally concerned with mental health and well-being, and have been accompanied by a European strategy on mental health for the EU (EC, 2005). At a global level, the World Health Organisation has declared enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health to be a fundamental human right (WHO, 2006). It has launched a new appeal on mental health which draws attention to the impact of human rights violations and cites social isolation, poor quality of life, stigma and discrimination as central issues for those with mental health needs (Dhanda and Narayan, 2007; Horton, 2007; WHO, 2007).
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