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Mentally Ill Victims of Stigma, Discrimination, Abuse

FILE - Patients undergoing a rehabilitation program draw during a therapy session at the Sopi Jikko centre in Dakar, June 6, 2014. Sopi Jikko is a rehabilitation center for people with mental health and drug addiction problems.

To mark World Mental Health Day Saturday, the World Health Organization urges governments to protect the human rights and dignity of people with mental health disorders who suffer from stigma, discrimination and wide-ranging abuse.

Hundreds of millions of people globally suffer from mental health problems. The World Health Organization reports the mentally ill account for 13 percent of the global disease burden, and for one-third of all health-related disability.

Studies in the United States, Britain and Ethiopia show people with serious mental illness are dying 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population. WHO Mental Health Coordinator Michelle Funk says people with mental health problems often are shunned and neglected.

Inadequate services

She says the services they receive for their condition are generally inadequate and almost universally brutal. She says they are stripped of their human rights and dignity - elements essential for their recovery.

“What we see instead is that people admitted to in-patient facilities throughout all countries in the world are exposed to violence, sexual abuse," she said. "They are restrained. They are tied down. They are left without food and water, forced to live in extremely dirty and unhygienic conditions and simply forgotten about for years and sometimes for the rest of their life.”

She notes this is a common situation in both developed and developing countries. Dr. Funk says people with mental disabilities frequently are locked up in institutions where they are isolated from society and subject to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Human rights violations

She says they often are deprived of the right to make decisions for themselves, lack access to education and employment opportunities. She says people with mental illness are set apart from the general population and are prevented from participating fully in society.

The World Health Organization says poor quality care due to a lack of qualified health professionals and dilapidated facilities leads to further violations. The agency is running an awareness campaign aimed at dispelling the many myths and erroneous assumptions of the mentally ill.

The WHO says many people with mental disabilities can recover if treated by trained health professionals who respect the needs of their patients and include them in the decisions that affect their lives.