This piece was first published on Mad in America on October 10, 2019 and can be accessed here.

Suicide prevention should not be addressed by increased prescription of medication, says Dainius Pūras, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health. In a news release on suicide prevention for World Mental Health Day on October 10th, he stated:

“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”.

He added, that 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. We must pursue new routes to suicide prevention that invest in fortifying healthy, respectful and trusting relationships which also include connecting people with communities.

Accordingly, he states that “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 that 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 medicalization and addresses societal determinants, promoting autonomy and resilience through social connection, tolerance, justice, and healthy relationships.”

Read the full statement on the UN website here. 

Dr. Dainius Pūras is a medical doctor from Lithuania with notable expertise on mental health and child health; he took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on August 1st, 2014. Dainius Pūras is the Director of Human rights monitoring institute in Vilnius Lithuania, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and public mental health at Vilnius University and teaches at the faculties of medicine and philosophy of the same university.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.