Human Rights As They Pertain To People In Mental Health Treatment

An piece on human rights and mental health law, Mental Health Human Rights – “Case Law in Europe”, as is so often the case, frames the situation much too

When they first confront the mental health system, many do not realize what their rights are under US civil law or under international human right law. There are routine human rights abuses by those entrusted with the care, treatment, and social support to those with mental health disabilities. Persons who are experiencing mental health challenges or who have a mental health disability have difficulty expressing their needs and to bring forth allegations of neglect or abuse. There are several concepts within human rights mental health law that human rights advocates and those who advocate for the disabled should know.

A basic problem concerns the subject of these human rights abuses. “Persons who are experiencing mental health challenges or who have a mental health disability” makes a number of assumptions, one of which is that people are necessarily in mental health treatment because they have a “mental illness”, and that there is always a need for such treatment. We know that people get falsely convicted of crimes that they didn’t commit, and if mistakes happen in the criminal justice system, well, they happen in the mental health/illness system, too.

Mental health administrators and workers in places where there is little oversight or true legal representation on the receiving end, constitute in themselves a loophole around the law as it is written. What law is going to safeguard human rights without any sort of enforcement?

Human rights concern the way laws are applied to all people. This separation of people into “those experiencing mental health challenges or who have a mental health disability” and everybody else is unhelpful. The same applies to people deemed to have physical “disabilities”. It’s not that a “disability” makes a person “special”; it’s that, for some reason, people see fit to treat handicapped people differently. Consideration for people who are fit, without consideration for people who are less fit, or who have lost that fitness, is callous disregard and just doesn’t pass mustard.

What followed was an attempt to tackle the issue of informed consent.

“Patients should, as a matter of principle, be placed in a position to give their free and informed consent to treatment. The admission of a person to a psychiatric establishment on an involuntary basis should not be construed as authorising treatment without his consent. It follows that every competent patient, whether voluntary or involuntary, should be given the opportunity to refuse treatment or any other medical intervention. Any derogation from this fundamental principle should be based upon law and only relate to clearly and strictly defined exceptional circumstances.”

Where is there any “admission of a person to a psychiatric establishment on an involuntary basis” that does not involve “treatment”? Are you trying to infer that confinement in itself is neither a human rights violation nor a “treatment”? “Free and informed consent” are issues, surely, but once the person is admitted “on an involuntary basis”, no consent is “free”, and the extent of it’s being informed is a matter that must be seriously questioned as you are not getting this information from any independent source. The “involuntary” admission authorities are, of course, going to brush off any downside to “treatment” in favor of it’s upside.

After tackling detainment, right to a speedy review, psychiatric “medication”, and capacity or lack thereof, the article concludes…

These are just some of the basic principles of human rights of persons with a mental health disability.

I’m back to the argument I started with initially. Human rights are not “people with mental health disabilities” rights. Human rights do not apply to people who are “disabled” because they are “disabled” but, rather, they apply to people who are “disabled” because they are human beings. Human rights are rights human beings are entitled to by virtue of their humanity. The dilemma that this and other suchlike articles are trying to address arises from the fact that we have mental health laws and other such laws that violate constitutional and international laws recognizing and safeguarding those human rights.

Once upon a time people in slavery in the USA were accounted at the value of a fraction of the value of a person not held in slavery. This accounting meant that slaves were perceived as being less than complete human beings. The Declaration of Independence that signaled a call to arms for our War of Independence stated all men were created equal. This document was not intended to extend that definition to include slaves and women. The extension of this declared equality to include black people and women has been the aim of many populist and heroic struggles of the past. Much of this extension has been accomplished, but once you have included black people and woman, then there is the little matter of other under valued and devalued peoples.

Gay people, homeless people, people labeled mentally ill, poor people and other marginalized and disenfranchised populations have yet to achieve complete equality of opportunity with people who have achieved that objective as conceived by our forebears. Part of the reason for this situation is that sometimes the present law of the land is archaic, constitutes an impediment to progress, and needs amending. Put simply, there is much that remains to be done.