Global Mental Health: Changing Norms, Constant Rights
Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 9, pp. 83-92, Winter/Spring 2008
12 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2008
Date Written: Winter/Spring 2008
Of all the vulnerable groups that face stigmatization in our society, persons with mental disabilities are perhaps the most disadvantaged. The litany of abuses perpetrated against persons with mental disabilities is long and sadly varied. Persons with mental disabilities have been involuntarily confined without due process or adequate cause, subjected to squalid living conditions, denied appropriate care and treatment both within and outside of institutions, and confronted with daunting physical and social barriers that prevent their full participation in society. Moreover, the widespread recognition of this mistreatment has not prevented it from continuing to occur in multiple locations around the world. Despite occasional examples of deep caring and compassion, the vast majority of communities continue to treat persons with mental disabilities according to the hurtful and incorrect stereotypes of incompetency and dangerousness.
This article explores the changing norms in mental health systems around the world. Frequently, these systems - and the societies that implement them - fail to protect the health and well-being of persons with mental disabilities. In order to remedy these historical and ongoing problems, mental health policies should incorporate human rights standards and corresponding notions of fairness and justice. More specifically, mental health law and policy should provide due process and humane treatment for persons housed in institutional settings, facilitate individualized mental health care plans and community care wherever possible, and recognize the right to health in the form of public access to mental health care.
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