International human rights violations against mentally ill and mentally disabled people
Human rights violations (HRV) against the mentally ill are widely perpetrated in countless countries – both within and outside of psychiatric institutions – without public knowledge:
- arbitrary, unnecessary, and excessive deprivation of liberty, physical and psychic mistreatment, sexual
- isolation and stigmatization
- extremely bad living conditions (water, housing, hygiene), under consideration of low local standards
- missing or grossly false and harmful treatment (with medication, ECT=electro-convulsive therapy,
- a lack of education, participation, legal advice, the possibility of court appeals, legal recourse in regard to
forced measures and mistreatment
- violation of the the human right to health (Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the
General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948).
These HRV are committed in- and outside of psychiatric institutions, or in institutions run by healers. The chaining or fixation of limbs to wooden stakes or in the open usually occurs outside the sphere of psychiatric treatment. Special problems include the expulsion of healthy individuals into psychiatric institutions by family members (affects women in India) or the incarceration of mentally ill individuals (in the US).
One main cause of such HRV can surely be found in the undersupply of psychiatric treatment (missing supply structures or poor equipment and training). Another factor of such cruelty is the still widespread belief in “possession” or “demons” as the cause for incomprehensible, disturbing, and perhaps violent behavior. The demons are supposed to be driven out by using violence. Mental illnesses, as well as mental disabilities, or epilepsy are not understood as sicknesses. About 76–85% of people in “low- and middle-income countries” have no access to psychiatric treatment, and often only 0–1% of already small health budgets are spent on mental health. On the other hand, approximately 5% of the global population suffer from severe mental illnesses and mental disabilities at moment X (“point prevalence”). In regard to severe illnesses the numbers to not differ significantly from country to country. Moderately severe forms of depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorders, which can be encountered especially often in poor countries with a history of civil war in past or present, are not included in the numbers referenced above. Healers or “prayer camps” (both Muslim and Christian) often take care of the treatment, in many cases however engaging in the deprivation of liberties and abuses of all kinds. The victims are usually not allowed to decide on their treatment or the length of their stay in these camps.
A general overview of the situation of Global Mental Health and the strategies that can be used to improve the situation can be found in a comprehensive article of the “Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and sustainable development” of 2018:
This text can be read for free, but requires registration. A non-official version can be found here:
An overview of Global Mental Health Care Statistics you may find on:
WHO ‑Mental Health Atlas (2017)
Addressing the burden of mental, neurological, and substance use disorders: key messages from Disease Control Priorities, 3rd edition.
The legal situation in various countries:
The state of research on psychiatric care, particularly in African countries, has recently been critically presented in :
In the following, we point to flagrant examples of such human rights violations:
1. Ein Beitrag zur Situation psychisch kranker Menschen in Indien mit Schwerpunkten auf der Situation
der Frauen und der Rolle der Heiler:
A video from vice news focusing the situation of mentally ill women in India (2015):
2. Films und articles concerning the situation in Westafrika:
An article in The New York Times “In West Africa a Mission to Save Minds” (2015–10-11):
The world´s worst place to be disabled? (BBC about Ghana)
Ghana: Dealing with the Mentally Ill/Global 3000 (BBC)
Ein Bericht aus der Süddeutschen Zeitung über die Situation in Sierra Leone:
Ein weiterer Bericht zu Sierra Leone von 2019:
Breaking the chains – Sierra Leone’s uphill struggle to reform mental health (The New Humanitarian, 13. 11. 2019):
3. in Somalia
by channel4 news: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWuZJeBJ-Vs
4. in Cambodia by channel4 news: https://youtu.be/dxq-busFi8M
5. in Indonesia:
A video report about a programme to unchain chained, mentally ill people on Bali, Indonesia, led by the psychiatrist Dr. Suryani. The report has been made by the french journalist Elodie Chazet.
The following report has been made by the journalist Christian Werner for the “Leica Fotografie International Magazine”. It comes with German subtitles.
The following material has been provided by the grassroot journalism website “Free Speech Radio News (FSRN)”.
This report is provided by the association for psychological science (aps; http://www.psychologicalscience.org/).
A video from Human Rights Watch about the situation in Indonesia:
[More detailed the report the campaign of HRW concerning Indonesien:
6. in Guatemala
Video concerning the only „Psychiatric Hospital“ (Mental Disability Rights International, 2014):
7. in the USA
In the USA, mentally ill people are often placed in prisons. You will find several videos on their situation under: