Mental Health Rights: A Global Perspective

When thinking of human rights violations all over the world, one such inequality that may not come to mind is that of human rights abuses towards those with mental illnesses. While stigma is a major aspect of inequality seen in more developed countries, there is far more discrimination than we may realize. The importance of education concerning these issues and learning of ways to enforce justice is truly essential. Regardless of mental health status, we all deserve basic human rights.

According to research done by the World Health Organization, those with mental health disabilities experience a wide array of human rights violations every day. Within the health care sector, there are notoriously limited resources for those with mental health struggles from lack of treatments and lack of programs. This deficit causes many countries to only provide “care” in the manner of institutionalization. This unhelpful approach becomes a breeding ground for its own horror stories of abuse. Outside of health care, those with mental illnesses are regularly and persistently discriminated against while seeking the necessities of life such as employment, education, basic
governmental assistance, and resources. Only in 2008 did the United Nations Convention of Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) come into existence.

Various examples of human rights violations according to the World Health Organization include:

1) A lack of access to basic care. Thirty-two percent of countries have no official community care for mental health cases, and twenty percent of countries with mental health services allocate less than one percent to mental health care.

2) Inappropriately forced treatment. Many individuals are forced to be admitted to various institutions against their will for weeks, months, or even years.

3) Violations within psychiatric institutions. There have been countless horrifying reports of individuals in these facilities who are restrained by metal shackles, kept in caged beds, and forced to live in filthy conditions. Plus, they are often denied contact with loved ones and society as a whole.

4) Stigma and discrimination. Some countries go so far as to imprison those with mental illnesses because they view them as dangerous and too much of a burden on society.

While these violations are surely disturbing to many, it is with some comfort that because of the work of various organizations and grassroots movements, equality is becoming more of a reality. With the formation of the United Nations’ actions against discrimination towards people with disabilities, more progress has been made on a
global scale. This founding set into action a range of rights including civil and political rights, the rights to live in the community, and rights to access public inclusion, education, health, employment, and social protection.

In the United States, especially, those with mental illnesses are entitled to following:

1.) The right to integrate into the community. This right affirms the efficacy of individual to choose to live independently in the community of their choice, as opposed to constant institutionalization.

2.) Freedom from discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act dictates that under the law, mental illnesses are considered disabilities and are entitled to the same protections as those with physical impairments. For example, freedom from employment/educational discrimination, freedom from open acts of discrimination, and the right to “reasonable accommodations” in an educational or work setting.

3.) Informed consent. Those receiving health care have gained rights to ask about treatments they’re receiving, to choose to switch providers, and the right to refuse treatment (except in cases of extreme lack of functionality.)

4.) Confidentiality. Now, it would be unheard of for medical providers to share information concerning a patient with outside parties, but this protection now includes those with mental illnesses. The law requires the individual’s signed
consent before sharing information and there are dire consequences if confidentiality is not maintained.

While there is still a way to go for true equality and social justice for those who have been victimized by the system, there are reasons to hope. Many global organizations fight continually to ensure improved access to health care, the monitoring of human rights abuses, and the eradication of discrimination. Organizations such as the United Nations (UN), The World Health Organization (WHO), The American Psychiatric Association (APA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and many other entities have made great strides. While
major organizations do their work, it’s also important for the general public to become educated about violations occurring worldwide. Education is the first step towards recognizing our own rights as well as the needed rights of those who deserve further protections.

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