UN Special Rapporteur calls for a rights-based approach to suicide prevention

By agency reporter
October 12, 2019

Suicide prevention should not be addressed by increased prescription of medication, says Dainius Puras, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health.

“Emotional pain frequently comes from being a victim of violence, discrimination or exclusion. Targeting the brain chemistry of individuals often exacerbates stigma and social exclusion, aggravates loneliness and helplessness and fails to reduce the risk of suicide”, said Puras in his statement to mark World Mental Health Day on 10 October.

“The high incidence and the economic burden of mental health conditions can also be seen as the effects of trauma and other adversities, including interpersonal and gender-based violence, as well as child abuse and neglect.

“Pathologising the diversity of individual responses to adversity as if they were medical conditions disempowers individuals and perpetuates social exclusion and stigma”, the expert said.

"We must pursue new routes to suicide prevention that invest in fortifying healthy, respectful and trusting relationships which also include connecting people with communities. Suicide prevention must address the structural factors that make lives unliveable and examine how distress arises within power imbalances; it must also address problem relationships and reduce interpersonal violence.”

The Special Rapporteur says a targeted, individual response to each situation remains vital in suicide prevention but warns against excessive use of medication and against coercion and isolation.

“To ensure that people stay alive and develop the skills they need to thrive, it is necessary to have ongoing community-based care within robust support systems that can adequately reach people where they live, work, learn and play”, he said.

“To prevent suicide, States should adopt strategies with a rights-based approach that avoids excessive medicalisation and addresses societal determinants, promoting autonomy and resilience through social connection, tolerance, justice, and healthy relationships.”

* Read the Special Rapporteur's full statement here

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/Home.aspx

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