Mental Health Challenges Affect Us All

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November 29, 2012

Did you know that mental health problems are so common, that one in four people are likely affected to some degree or another? And yet, even in 2012, mental health conditions can be a taboo topic. Around the world, sufferers are often misunderstood and badly managed by families, communities and facilities. Patients in developing countries are even more vulnerable to mistreatment, abuse and restraint. Could you accept being treated like this? To talk and have no one listen, to be restrained, locked up? Or worse? Or to not have anyone explain treatments to you, or treat you without a long term solution in mind?

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced the QualityRights Toolkit – a framework to enable countries to take stock of the level of mental health care, review facilities and practices, and eliminate violations against those with mental health challenges.

“Decrepit buildings, overcrowding and unhygienic living conditions are a reality for many people living in psychiatric institutions. In many facilities, people are exposed to violence, abuse, harmful treatment and neglect. Many are locked up against their will, overmedicated, put in seclusion cells or restrained, sometimes for years,” describes Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

The QualityRights Toolkit is based on the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It provides standards that should to be met in all mental health facilities, including the need for:

    • safe and hygienic living conditions and a social environment conducive to recovery;
    • evidence-based care on the basis of free and informed consent;
    • enhancing people’s autonomy enabling them to engage in their own recovery plans;
    • reporting and halting all inhuman treatment; and
    • linking health services with employment, education, social and housing services in order to promote independent living in the community for mental health service users.

WHO’s works with governments and ministries of health to help them improve mental health care in their countries. As more people become aware of dire situations in the treatment of mental health conditions, governments are under criticism and many are paying attention. With the framework of the Toolkit, the WHO can enter into a dialogue with the health ministry and help train a committee on standards, how to assess, support them to go to the facilities, document findings and come up with recommendations.

What does the toolkit mean for the average person? If we felt confident that our family and loved ones were actually going to be safe and receive care that puts them on the road to health, then our entire approach to mental health as families, communities and countries has the potential to shift.

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