Background: This paper aims to consider whether adolescents’ rights differ from adults’ rights and whether applying a children’s rights framework is more helpful in pursuing a public health agenda for adolescents than promoting individual rights.
Method: An overview of different types and categories of rights is provided. The need to balance rights and the relationships between mental health professionals’ roles and others’ reciprocal rights is discussed in order to aid consideration of the above questions. The context is healthcare provision for adolescents with mental health disorders and difficulties. The article is informed by practice in the public mental healthcare system in England, hence many examples are drawn from the English healthcare and legal literature, although international connections are made.
Results: Adolescents’ rights differ from adults’ rights, especially because of the legal and political disabilities of childhood. Applying a rights framework offers one way of reasoning about ethical and legal challenges in adolescent mental health care. In England, however, having a Human Rights Act, with which all other law must be commensurate, has not resulted in significant promotion of the individual rights of adolescent minors who have capacity to consent. Pediatric professional organisations have met with some success in pursuing a public health agenda for adolescents by advocating for their human rights.
Conclusion: Particularly given evidence that most lifetime psychiatric disorders have started by the end of adolescence, mental health professional organisations should strongly and actively advocate for human rights and global equity in healthcare provision for adolescents.