The World Health Organization (WHO) states that all over the world people with mental and psychosocial disabilities are subjected to a wide range of human rights violations, stigma and discrimination.
People in mental health facilities often are exposed to high levels of abuse and violence. Their living conditions are inhumane and the treatment they receive is degrading.
Many patients are overmedicated to keep them docile and easy to manage. 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. What make 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 lack of human rights or their violations, as seen in the Esdimeni tragedy and similar cases, does not stem from a shortcoming in existing South African or international law per se; but is the result of social stigma, prejudice, and other social and economic factors linked with mental illness.
Community care has seen a paradigm shift for psychiatric treatment worldwide. The success of deinstitutionalization depends on a number of key conditions: The establishment of a comprehensive community support system, an environment that allows the people with mental illness to experience all the rights of citizenship as other individuals do, and tolerance and nondiscrimination in the local community. However, studies have provided evidences of high levels of bullying, harassment, and exploitation experienced by people with mental health problems while living in the community. In addition, they continue to ‘suffer from widespread, systematic discrimination and are consistently denied the rights and services to which they are entitled’.
Research suggests that there is an urgent need to take necessary steps to protect, promote, and fulfill human rights of people with mental illness through providing care, educating the community, and strengthening legislations.
People with living mental illness are entitled to fair treatment, and they should:
- Be treated with respect and dignity
- Have their privacy protected
- Receive services appropriate for their age and culture
- Understand treatment options and alternatives
- Get care that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, race, or type of illness