Mental health and well-being

Mental health and well-being

Effective human rights monitoring requires understanding and consideration of the impact that trauma can have on those who survived it. By their very nature, human rights violations are often traumatizing. The mental health and well-being of human rights defenders has often been neglected by human rights organizations, funders, and defenders themselves. Exploring what risks defenders face and how they might be prevented, moderated or handled in the aftermath is vital. Defenders increasingly want to strengthen their resilience and sees their own well-being as necessary for sustainable movements.


HHRI Thematic page on Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This thematic page covers a variety of links related to PTSD. PTSD is considered to be caused either by psychological or physical trauma, more frequently a combination of both. Traumatic events that may cause symptoms of PTSD are f.e. (experiencing or/and witnessing) violent assault, abuse, torture, being a hostage or kidnapping – so we are talking about a wide range of settings from violence in private context up to war, conflict, disaster and catastrophes. Many Human rights defender might experience different types of trauma and could find this page useful.

HHRI Thematic page on torture
Torture in any form and for any reason has been banned by international law, but it is still practiced on a million people each year around the world. Survivors of torture are found everywhere. Victims of torture and their families need rehabilitation to make it possible for them to re-establish control over their lives. Many Human rights defenders have survived torture in detention or in prisons, this thematic page might be useful.

Trauma and self-care
OHCHR 2011
This chapter reviews some of the effects that trauma can have on someone’s ability to recall and recount events. This can help HROs to have a trauma-sensitive approach to human rights monitoring, but also for Human rights defenders. This part provides basic guidelines for HROs on how to interview trauma survivors, how to analyse information gathered from them, and what interventions may be helpful to support survivors recovering from traumatic human rights violations. Further information on these topics is provided in separate chapters of this Manual (see chapters on Gathering and verifying information and on Interviewing, and Part VIII on Intervention for corrective action).

The Barcelona Guidelines on Wellbeing and Temporary International Relocation of Human Rights Defenders 
This publication focuses on the wellbeing of human rights defenders during temporary international relocation initiatives, whereby a defender spends a period of time abroad, often as a measure of last resort, for their protection. Wellbeing is seen as “the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health of defenders”, as well as having “healthy relationships with others and with the environment”. The guidelines address general principles concerning the wellbeing of human rights defenders, and highlights ways in which coordinators of such initiatives and wellbeing support providers can address the wellbeing of defenders during relocation. The broader aim is that human rights movements become communities of mutual care. The guidelines are also available in Spanish, French and Russian (please click on the language to access the guidelines or visit the Human Rights Defender Hub page on wellbeing).

Human Rights Resilience Project 
Tools to Promote Mental Health & Well-Being for Human Rights Advocates. This website is a collaborative space run by the Human Rights Resilience Project to bring together resources, research, and tools to improve resilience and well-being within the human rights community. The crucial work undertaken by advocates to investigate abuse and advocate for justice can often expose them to traumatic material, threats, stressors, and violence that can affect well-being. This space aims to meet the urgent need for advocates to have improved access to tailored education, training and research materials.

Resilience as Resistance: Mental health and well-being in human rights
Open global rights – A web site with series examines a range of critical questions and issues including: research conducted on the mental health impacts of human rights work, obstacles to advancing mental health and well-being in this field, as well as innovative approaches and strategies to prevent and alleviate the harmful effects of human rights work.

Building the foundations of resilience: 11 lessons for human rights educators and supervisors 
Educators and managers can play an important role in building the next generation of resilient human rights advocates.

Wellbeing, Risk, and Human Rights Practice
University of York 2017
Human rights defenders at risk often find it difficult to talk about their mental and emotional wellbeing, even when they are concerned about it. Cultures of human rights practice tend to emphasize self-sacrifice, heroism, and martyrdom. These norms inhibit defenders from expressing their anxieties and seeking help. How can we engage in discussions about wellbeing in human rights practice? How can we strengthen personal and collective strategies for wellbeing amongst defenders at risk?

Fighting stigma: protecting the mental health of African rights advocates
Human rights advocates in Africa face significant challenges in getting past mental health stigmas in order to get help.

Mental Health Functioning in the Human Rights Field: Findings from an International Internet-Based Survey
Joscelyne et al. 2015
Human rights advocates play a critical role in promoting respect for human rights worldwide, and engage in a broad range of strategies, including documentation of rights violations, monitoring, press work and report-writing, advocacy, and litigation. However, little is known about the impact of human rights work on the mental health of human rights advocates. This study examined the mental health profile of human rights advocates and risk factors associated with their psychological functioning.