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. Is one not mentally stable enough to vote, to choose what to eat, to own property, to decide who should make decisions on their behalf, to hold a job, to love and marry, to raise a family etc? Does being mentally ill equate to being deprived of rights that everyone else is allowed to enjoy?

In order to know the safeguards that should or should not apply in the protection of those with mental illness, we should keep in mind that mental disability comes in degrees i.e. mild, medium, severe etc. Further, the triggers of mental illness are diverse, they do not always have to do with the lack of a ‘sound mind’ but pressures and circumstances which make people ill. It is proper to deal with those triggers rather than impose restrictions on those suffering from mental illness. This understanding should inform policy implementation. Each cases warrant their own levels of support. Some with mental illness are in need of high support, other may not be. Sometimes the support and exemptions offered cushion those with severe mental illness, sometimes they limit those who are relatively well. Mental disability should not be used as an excuse to further dis-empower and debilitate one who is already bearing the brunt of disability. Nonetheless, when we talk of rights for the mentally ill, we should take into consideration the consequences of our choices.

What are the consequences of one’s choices for the community at large? As one enjoys freedom, it should be in a way that does not infringe on the freedom of others. Rights come with responsibilities. If one denies evident health issues then that person should be liable for any wrong decisions they 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 neither fair nor just. Is one capable of making sound decisions and being responsible for them? If yes, then that person should have unrestricted rights bearing in mind that he/she will be be responsible for his/her actions. Is one able to support oneself with ease? Then there is little need for unwarranted and overbearing support.

Individuals have diverse experiences or manifestations of problems but that does not equal problems or issues into debates of diversity. If for example one has diabetes, the ultimate goal would be to get healed not label diabetes as part of human diversity. One is aware that his/her body is not working optimally and seeks the remedy for that purpose. Similarly, if one has schizophrenia and is incapacitated, that person would want to get healed and not label schizophrenia as part of human diversity. There is a state of being healthy or wholly functional. As such, we need to appeal to human compassion and empathy and focus on implementing policies that foster compassion and punish those who do otherwise. Ill or not ill, no one loses the inherent dignity due to all persons. If one has mental illness, that condition does not make that person any less human.

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 anyone’s identity.


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