Mental Illness Discrimination a Global Issue

September 8, 2016 0

A survey of laws and policies of 193 United Nations (UN) member states reveals a significant level of discrimination against individuals with mental illness in the areas of marriage, voting rights, and employment, among others.

Key findings of the survey, funded by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) and released September 5 on World Mind Matters Day, include the following:

  • 37% of countries prohibit marriage by people with mental health problems. In 11% of countries, mental health problems can render a marriage void or can be considered grounds for annulling a marriage.

  • In 36% of countries, people with mental health problems are not allowed to vote.

  • In nearly a quarter of countries, there are no laws preventing discrimination in the recruitment of people with mental health problems.

  • In over half of countries, there is no explicit protection in laws against dismissal/termination.

  • 38% of countries deny the right to contract to persons with mental health problems.

  • 42% of countries do not recognize the right of people with mental health problems to write their own will and testament.

The survey results were included in a special issue of the International Review of Psychiatry entitled Social Justice for People With Mental Illness.

The survey findings led the WPA to create a Bill of Rights for Individuals With Mental Illness, which urges all governments to ensure that persons with mental illness, mental disability, or mental health problems are not discriminated against on the basis of their mental health status and are treated as full citizens who enjoy all rights on an equal basis with others.

The Bill of Rights has been supported by 18 organizations, the WPA says.

“Those with mental illness/mental disability/mental health problems have the capacity to hold rights and exercise their rights and should be treated on an equal basis with other citizens. The challenge for policy makers, clinicians, and individuals with mental illness is to fight discrimination using strategies similar to civil liberties, gender equality, and sexual minority (LGBT) communities, which in many parts of the world have proven to be useful,” WPA President Dinesh Bhugra, MBBS, FRCPsych, PhD, said in a release.

“It is important that clinicians around the globe work with patients, their carers, and their families, as well as with relevant organizations representing these groups, to challenge discrimination, change laws, and ensure that these are applied equally. There is simply no explanation for continuing discrimination against individuals with mental illness, their families, and those who care for them, whether they are professional or lay carers,” he added.

At the UN General Assembly in September 2015, the promotion of mental health and well-being was recognized as a health priority within the global development agenda, officially becoming a sustainable development goal.

“UN state leaders therefore committed to the prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, including behavioral, developmental, and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development,” the WPA notes.

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