Mental health care is a mirror of society. The more humane and civil a society, the more chance there is for a humane, user-oriented mental health care system in which human rights are respected and users and their carers collaborate in selecting and delivering services. However, a civil society does not automatically produce a humane and user-oriented mental health care system. In spite of the fact that a large portion of society is affected by mental health problems, users typically remain stigmatized, invisible, and often neglected, and as a result mental health services are often under-financed and under-rated. People with mental illness are often segregated -- psychologically and, in many cases, also physically and legally – from the rest of society. In fact, a genuine commitment to improve treatment of people with mental disabilities may be the most revealing measure of progress in a modern society. A truly “civil” society elevates the position of all its most vulnerable citizens, serves the needs of persons with mental problems, provides adequate funding for mental health care, and assures that services are user-oriented – in other words, the needs and wishes of those using the services are the central considerations in shaping policy and practice.
Mental health care has always been a low priority in most of the countries in the world In many countries, mental patients were stashed away in large institutions outside the city, where people were ignored and, all too often, left to die. This mentality, which relegated mental patients to a sub-human status, and even branded relatives of the mentally ill, still pervades many societies. Much work needs to be done in this field, to change the image and position of persons with mental problems. This is a task that will take several decades to accomplish.
In many countries, the human rights of mental patients are violated on a massive scale. In many institutions, living conditions are appalling; methods of treatment are outdated; staff is underpaid and insufficiently educated and unable to deal with the patients’ problems; abuses are rampant; and little hope exists that the care provided will help to bring persons with mental illness back to society. In short, becoming mentally ill is usually a life sentence to a form of exile or second-class citizenship.
Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP is committed to achieving genuine improvements in mental health care and in respect for human rights, and believes that these improvements need to be achieved by opening doors, not closing them. We believe in building partnerships and finding ways to enable local leaders to embrace the need for correction themselves. This strategy of “operating in silence” is not necessarily contradicted or undermined by the activities of those who voice their criticisms more stridently and more openly.