A couple of years back, I worked on a book called ‘Psychiatric Hospitals in India’. I took on the project as a content advisor and morphed into a co-researcher out of sheer interest. I was interested since psychiatry is a field I did not know the ABC of. But as I went deeper into writing, compiling, advising, designing sheets upon sheets full of everything to do with mental hospitals, illnesses, problems and recommendations, I realized it was not just that mental health was a lesser known field but also that it was not covered as extensively by popular media in my surroundings as maybe other similar concerns had been.Because in so many countries still, mental illnesses are stuff that stigma is made of. And a mental asylum a building housing men, women and even children who have been disowned by their families.
And more often than not, the hospitals are far from asylums but places which, knowingly or otherwise, violate human rights of the mentally ill patients. And this is something that you and I do not read about in the national dailies. Because somewhere, we either tend to not notice or make unseen that semi-nude “mad man” with a matted beard talking to the trees on the side of the road.Today, on Blog Action Day, I pen a few paragraphs of information on Mental Health and Human Rights. I am no human rights activist in the true sense of the word. I am not even taking action on the patient’s behalf in this case. I am simply showing you the picture and the perspective that I gathered along the way. Maybe hoping to bring about a change, a change in the mindset which still uses words like ‘mental’, ‘psycho’, ‘schizo’ and ‘retard’ in a loose, irresponsible and utterly insensitive way.
Health, as a right, was included only recently in the United Nations ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, as Article 25 (Universal Declaration), stating ‘Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and his family…’ When we talk of Mental Health, it took a series of revolutionary minds across the globe to emphasise that persons suffering from mental illness shall enjoy the same human rights and fundamental freedoms as all other citizens. They shall not be the subject of discrimination on grounds of mental illness. They have the rights to professional, humane and dignified treatment and will be protected from exploitation, abuse and degradation. Elimination of prejudice and stigma attached to mental illnesses will be aimed at and regardless of age, gender, ethnic group or disorder, they will be treated in the same manner as other citizens in need of health care.
In short, the world recognized the fact that the basic human rights and freedoms of the mentally ill should be respected at all costs. The relationship between mental health and Laws of the Land was established, and even though a dynamic one, laid down set criterion for the treatment of the mentally ill under various governments and nation states.We revel in our heterogeneity. On good days we celebrate it, on bad days we have an identity crisis and want to enforce our own. Multiplicity of political systems and social ideologies add to the diverse scenario. Under the circumstances, not just availability and accessibility of mental health care but the implementation of human rights issues itself becomes a problem. Varying ideas of privacy, social stigmatization of patients, interpretations of right to refuse treatment add to the problem of implementing a universal idea of human rights of the mentally ill. But where once the ‘asylums’ were prisons for the hopeless, things are a changing for the better.
Health security for the entire population is being accepted as an essential requirement that should be guaranteed by the government. The Mental Health Act of 1987, a national statute, recognised the lack of humane treatment of the mentally ill and codified guidelines about the human rights of the mentally ill much before National Human Rights Commission was even established. The landmark judgments included no mentally ill person shall be subjected, during treatment, to any indignity or cruelty. No mentally ill person shall be used for purpose of research unless such research is of direct benefit to him, or such a person’s consent (or guardian’s consent) has been received in writing. Many more movements and efforts towards ensuring protection of human rights have followed, with the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission acting as catalysts towards bringing about a constructive change in mental institutions as well as treatment of patients. What was espoused?