Mental Health and Human Rights


A lot of stigma comes with mental health conditions and disabilities. These may lead to discrimination in the workplace. What is supposed to be well meaning assistance can lead to the usurpation of control in one’s life. For individuals who understand what is going around them this can be unnerving. Am I not mentally stable enough to vote, to choose what to eat, to own property, to decide who should make decisions on my behalf, to hold a job, to love and marry, to raise a family etc?

I would argue that mental disability comes in degrees and some with mental illness are in need of high support, other may not be. Sometimes the restrictions cushion those with severe mental illness, sometimes they limit those who are relatively well. Nonetheless, when we talk of rights for the mentally ill what should we take into consideration the consequences of our choices.

What are the consequences of my choices for the community at large? As I enjoy my freedom, I should do it in a way that does not infringe on the freedom of others. If I want rights, then I have responsibilities. If I deny my health issues then I should be liable for any wrong decisions I make etc. If I insist that a person who commits violence because of a different perception of reality is not mentally ill, then that person has to be held liable for his violence and that is not fair neither just. Am I capable of making sound decisions and being responsible for them? If yes, then I should be have unrestricted rights bearing in mind that I will be be responsible for my actions.

Just because individuals have different experiences does not mean we turn problems or issues into debates of diversity. If for example I have diabetes, I would want to get healed not label my disease as part of human diversity. I am aware that my body is not working optimally and seek the remedy for that purpose. Similarly, if I have schizophrenia and I am incapacitated, I would want to get healed and not label schizophrenia as part of human diversity. Is there not a way of being normal? If every disorder were part of diversity, why do we need doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists etc? We need to appeal to human compassion and empathy, not label what needs rectification as part of diversity and focus on implementing policies that foster compassion or punish those who do otherwise.

Secondly and of utmost importance, it is clear that mental illness comes in various degrees, mild, medium, severe etc and this should inform policy implementation. Each cases warrant their own rights and restrictions.

Finally, there is the idea that being mentally ill is a lifelong condition. Sometimes this may be the case. However, does there not come a point where one heals? I bet most individuals look forward to healing. The emphasis should be that mental illness can be treated as well as how to be productive members of society who have overcome their illness. We should not be keen on stamping mental illness as part of one’s identity.


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