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Many Mentally Ill People Don't Get Proper Treatment, says WHO - 2003-11-11

The World Health Organization says the treatment of millions of mentally ill people is so poor it amounts to a human rights violation. the WHO is calling on governments to better protect the mentally ill.

The World Health Organization estimates 450 million people around the world suffer from mental disorders. A large number of them, it says, do not receive the health care and treatment they need. WHO reports 50 percent of countries around the world either have no legislation or outdated laws on mental health.

The Director of WHO's Mental Health Department, Benedetto Saraceno, said many societies discriminate against the mentally ill, and often even the developed countries provide inadequate care for those with mental health disorders. "The violations of human rights start with stigma; stigmatizing people with mental disorders then becomes discrimination," he said.

WHO is holding a First International Training Forum on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation. Nearly 150 mental health representatives and key decision makers from some 70 countries, mainly from the developing world, are attending. The aim of the conference is to show the participants how they can help their governments draft and implement mental health legislation.

Sylvester Katontoka, president of the Mental Health Users Network of Zambia, said years of drug abuse destroyed his family life and eventually resulted in depression, for which he was hospitalized in 1996.

He describes conditions in the hospital as filthy. He said people are kept in almost prison-like conditions, and treatment is practically non-existent. He said he sees WHO's training course as an opportunity to help his country improve conditions for the mentally ill. "If a legislation, a good legislation is put in place, I think it can go a long way to protecting us, a long way to giving us a room, a long way to giving us a chance to contribute, a long way to even see us lead a happy life. This legislation could protect us from discrimination, protect us from stigmatization and give us room to participate," he said.

Mr. Katontoka said people with mental disorders can be useful to society, if there are laws to support and protect them.

The World Health Organization is drafting guidelines for governments to use in drafting mental health legislation that would provide adequate protection for the mentally ill.