In this month's PLoS Medicine, Alicia Ely Yamin, human rights attorney, and Eric Rosenthal, Founder and Executive Director of Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI), document some of the worst examples of the abuse of people in psychiatric institutions and argue that adopting a human rights framework would help to prevent such abuse.
In Kosovo, for example, MDRI learned that women were raped in psychiatric facilities in plain view of local staff and international humanitarian relief workers. In Hungary and Paraguay, MDRI found people locked in cages. In Turkey, Peru, and Bulgaria, MDRI investigators learned of a practice called "unmodified ECT"--the use of electroconvulsive therapy without any form of anaesthesia or muscle relaxants--a practice that is both painful and dangerous.
People with mental disabilities, say Yamin and Rosenthal, have the "rights to exercise agency in their own lives and to participate as members of their communities and societies, and these rights trump other concerns such as general attitudes toward risk containment in society." They argue that "the starting point of developing a human-rights based policy on mental health is that mentally ill individuals are full human beings who are entitled to rights. Although seemingly obvious, in practice MDRI has found that the implications of these premises challenge predominant biomedical approaches to mental illness, as well as health services paradigms."