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December 09, 2011

WHO: Poor Treatment of Mentally Ill Violates Their Human Rights

by Lisa Schlein

To mark this year’s Human Rights Day, the World Health Organization is urging countries to implement a new project called QualityRights, which aims to improve mental health services.  WHO says the project will help to end human rights violations against the mentally ill.  

The World Health Organization calls the abusive conditions endured by people with mental health conditions a hidden human rights emergency.  WHO reports that all over the world people with mental and psychosocial disabilities are subject to a wide range of human rights violations, stigma and discrimination.

The United Nations agency says global mental health care facilities offer the mentally ill poor quality care that often hinders their recovery.  

WHO’s Mental Health Policy Coordinator, Michelle Funk, says people in mental health facilities often are exposed to high levels of abuse and violence.  She says their living conditions are inhumane and the treatment they receive is degrading.

“For example, people can be overmedicated to keep them docile and easy to manage," she said.  "They can be locked in cells or restrained for days and months without food and water, without any human contact and leaving people to urinate and defecate in the very places where they are sleeping.  And, what makes these abuses even more shocking is that they are happening at the very hands of the health workers who are meant to provide care, treatment and support.”  

The World Health Organization says health care workers receive minimal training.  And, the group says workers do not understand that people with mental disabilities have human rights, which must be respected and not abused.

Funk notes violations are not restricted to inpatient and residential facilities.  She says many people seeking care from outpatient and community care services are treated with contempt and denied basic rights and services.

“Now, in the wider community, people with mental health conditions are unable to access health services and general social services, such as housing, education and employment-leading to poverty and also leading to high rates of morbidity and mortality," she said.  "And, what is more, because of these violations, people are condemned to living their lives in institutions or they end up homeless living on the streets.”  

Funk says WHO’s QualityRights project aims to tackle these violations.  First and foremost, she says the project aims to improve the quality and human rights conditions of mental health and social care services in order to put an end to these abhorrent conditions.

She says several countries already are implementing these programs.  They include Spain, Panama and Greece and India.