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Health in prisons and places of detention international conference: mental health and well-being in focus

Dear guests, dear colleagues,

It is a pleasure to address you today on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. My name is Elena Kountouri Tapiero, and I am the acting Representative of the UN Office for Human Rights in Europe. I thank the World Health Organization Europe for the invitation, as well as other co-organizers for continuing to push for a human rights-based approach to health care, including mental health care, in prisons and other places of deprivation of liberty.

Let me start by quoting the title of an article in the Economist magazine this week “death at the exit: prisoner’s health” which cites a Dutch study that found that prison has no net effect on inmates’ pre-existing health. The article says that basically if you go in unwell, you come out unwell and unprepared for what awaits outside jail.

In today’s societies across the world, we, as humanity, have still not seen a critical change in how mental health is perceived. There is a vicious cycle between discriminatory laws and social misconceptions, fears, stigma, including self-stigma, and prejudice. Often laws have a medicalized and sometimes criminalized approach to mental health challenges which have resulted in exclusion, institutionalization, coercion, and a lack of holistic and person-centered services and support systems in the community. These issues only begin to outline how we perceive mental health challenges and those who experience them.

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