Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Friday, December 09, 2005

International Human Rights Day at the UN

Yesterday's panel discussion at the UN entitled "The Protection and Promotion of Human Rights of Persons with Mental Disabilities" was both ambitious and disappointing.

Mental health care in most of the world is either wholly absent or consists entirely of incarceration where women and children especially suffer from conditions even worse than those inflicted on criminal and political prisoners. Stigma —unjustified debasement of people with mental illness— leads to neglect, abuse, isolation, rejection, exclusion, degradation and exploitation of the individuals, shame to families and demoralization of society in general, since fully one-fourth of all people suffer from a psychiatric disorder during their lifetime.

It is not simply lack of funds that accounts for most of the neglect and abuse of people with mental disabilities. The world allocates only one percent of its healthcare budget to psychiatric problems, although mental health accounts for 10–12% of the global burden of disease according to the UN's World Health Organization (WHO). Many countries have no special policy for mental health, or no policy for children's mental health.

The bottleneck here may be ignorance on the part of policy makers and leaders, failure to recognize the economic and social impact mental illness and not knowing how effective available treatments can be.

Craig G. Mokhiber, Deputy Director of the New York Office of the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke of applying the existing mechanisms for promoting human rights to tackling this problem. The human rights approach asserts that proper assistance for mental health is not a matter of charity but an obligation on governments to enact laws, set standards, monitor and report, and be accountable for meeting goals. Human rights is a matter not only of restraint from abuse but also of protection, assistance and fulfillment of these obligations.

Lance A. Gable, Senior Fellow of the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities described the work of the WHO/Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights that he directs and its work with the Pan-American Health Organization [PAHO]. Activities include:

  • Training workshops for governments and NGOs
  • Formulation of disability policies and laws in accord with human rights laws and principles
  • Strengthening of national mechanisms for monitoring (including use of ombudspersons)
  • Empowering patients and families to advocate for mental health issues
  • Planning ways to train judges, police and prison staff in dealing with mental health issues

After the meeting I spoke with the Chairmen of the NGO Committee on Mental Health about Women and Violence and its effect on women's mental health. I thought it might make a good "side meeting" at the CSW.

I do think these issues overlap with WILPF's agenda at the CSW.


  • Anita, you mentioned that the meeting was both ambitious and disappointing. What was disappointing about it? I hope a side meeting is held at the CSW, because I believe that mental healthcare is as vital to the future of our planet as physical healthcare.

    By Blogger C.J. Minster, at 10:55 AM  

  • What was disappointing was that the meeting was short on substance and direction. What the audience could do in this arena was unclear.

    I also hope there will be a side event- mental health care is sadly ignored as a major women's issue. I have not been able to reach the women who is the new head of the NGO for mental health as I hoped WILPF and her group could work together in setting up an event.

    I wish more medical people had been involved because some of the comments from the panel seemed uninformed as to the current state of the art in psychopharmacology. These are complex issues and require guidance from people who are experts in their fields.

    By Blogger Anita Pulier, at 3:01 PM  

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