Human Rights and Dignity of the Patient with a Mental Disorder


Language is important: the way we express ourselves about mentally ill patients determines how much we’re aware of their human rights. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world… disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…”. The basic principles of human rights are self-determination and freedom. When we deny these rights to a person, we deny their dignity and wellbeing, resulting in disregard and contempt. Every human being is worth of respect, consideration and help.

Suggestions to promote human dignity

  • Social perspective: starting with the family.
  • Belief in the possibility of personal growth: absolutely everyone has the chance of improvement, no matter their circumstances.
  • Inclusive work in communities.
  • Defending the rights of the mentally ill patients: when I see them as “no capable” I restrict their possibilities.
  • Empowerment: we’re more used to assisting (“you can’t do it, I’ll do it for you”) but that doesn’t help them.
  • Gender perspective: women are still the most vulnerable population.
  • Decrease stereotypes.
  • Change the way we see them: here, the speaker made a comparison that really impacted me. As we know, Jews were ordered to use a Jewish badge which intended to mark them as Jews in public at certain times in certain countries. Intended or not, it served as a badge of shame. With mentally ill patients, and whatever other stereotypes we have against certain kind of people, it’s like we’re mentally placing a badge on them which marks them as whole. Intended or not, we’re denying their human rights and dignity, simply because we’re seeing them as a group of people with characteristics that are undesirable and negligible.

Components of the stigma

  • Cognitive (stereotypes: they are violent).
  • Emotional (prejudices: they make me feel uncomfortable).
  • Behavioral (discrimination: I don’t want to work with them, I’d rather not get close).

Stigma can be:

  • Public: perceived and experienced by others (society).
  • Self-stigma: self-isolation, hiding of the problem, denial of illness (this is when the stigma causes the most worrying and dangerous impact).

Stigma affects, increases and gets stronger.

What to do to fight it? Deepen the understanding of mental illness and change the way we see it.

What are their rights and freedoms?

  • Voluntary admission in a psychiatric institution (the speaker was aware that this is an important point of discussion but still decided to mention it as part of her professional opinion).
  • Right to privacy.
  • Freedom of communication.
  • Receiving treatment while living in community (not all of them need hospitalization).
  • Signed consent.
  • Being treated humanely
  • Protection against exploitation and degrading treatment.
  • Harmonious coexistence and solidarity.
  • Belonging to a social group.
  • Developing skills.

As professionals of mental health, what can we do?

  • Promote educational activities.
  • Encourage assertiveness in relationships.
  • Respect privacy.
  • Be tolerant.
  • Promote appropriate therapeutic conditions.
  • Promote freedom.
  • Enable decision making.


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