Michelle Funk - WHO and the Sea Change in Mental Health


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Michelle Funk is the Unit Head of the Policy, Law, and Human Rights at the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at the World Health Organization. She has created and leads the WHO Quality Rights Initiative that aims to assess and improve human rights standards in existing services and advance the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

In this interview, we discuss the launch of the new “Guidance on Community Mental Health Services: Promoting Person-Centred and Rights-Based Approaches.” The document is grounded on the principles of recovery and rights-based approaches. It presents successful examples of best practices in mental health service provision respecting dignity, moving to zero coercion, and eliminating neglect and abuse. Among the best practices showcased in the document are Open Dialogue as practiced in Tornio, Finland, Soteria Berne in Switzerland, Afiya House in Western Massachusetts, Basal Exposure Therapy in Norway, and Hearing Voices Support Groups.

The Guidance builds on the momentum created by the critical voice of Dainius Pūras, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. Puras criticized the dominance of the biomedical model in the Mental Health field and highlighted the harms associated with ignoring the social determinants of health that impact a person’s mental health, such as violence, poverty, lack of proper nutrition, housing instability, lack of universal health coverage, discrimination and others.

In our conversation, Michelle Funk described the process of engaging stakeholders and persons with lived experience throughout the design and development of the document, the challenges of ensuring geographical representation given the global inequalities, and the hopes for the future.

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