Sep 18th 2023
Dignity in mental health care is fundamental to upholding human rights, de-stigmatizing mental health conditions, and aiding in patient recovery. However, lack of access to high-quality, dignified mental health care is an issue for millions of people around the world.
Dignity as a universal right is woven into international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The notion of dignity is at the heart of the Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006. Its stated purpose is to protect the rights and dignity of people with disabilities, including those with mental disabilities, and as of July 2023 it has 164 signatories.
In 2021, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030 was updated to set out clear actions for Member States and partners to, “promote mental health and well-being for all, to prevent mental health conditions for those at-risk, and to achieve universal coverage for mental health services .” The overall ambition for the plan is to enable people with mental health disorders to get access to high-quality healthcare to promote their recovery and be fully participatory members of society without being stigmatized or discriminated against because of their mental health.
While the understanding of dignity as a fundamental human right has shaped such frameworks for healthcare around the world, there are still many challenges when it comes to implementation.
Dignity in mental health care is fundamentally important to an individual’s human rights, in that, a lack of dignity can infringe on a person’s rights. For example, being involuntarily detained in a treatment facility denies one’s right to liberty.
Dignity in mental health care is also important at a societal level. Globally, people with mental health disorders are marginalized and mistreated, furthering the social stigma around mental health disorders, impacting the self-worth of the individual, and impeding their recovery.
As an example, one study of people with depression from 35 different countries, found that discrimination related to their depression acted as a barrier to their social participation and integration. Some of the 1000 plus participants of the survey had stopped themselves from initiating a close personal relationship, others had stopped themselves from applying for work, and others from applying for education or training .
Embedding dignity into mental health care can free individuals from social stigma and low self-esteem, and instead of becoming socially isolated, enable them to become fully accepted members of society.
Some of the issues within mental health care that can affect a patient’s dignity include:
For dignity in mental health care to be achieved, healthcare providers must ensure that they provide the same quality of care to those with mental health conditions, as to those without.
Promoting dignity and respect across all their mental health care policies and practices, and by providing sufficient mental health care training to healthcare workers - which addresses the rights to dignity and autonomy of those with mental health conditions - are also positive steps that healthcare providers can take to safeguard mental health patients.
There are also frameworks that healthcare services can adopt to promote dignity within mental healthcare. In 2012, WHO launched its QualityRights project which aims to “change mindsets and practices… and empower all stakeholders to promote rights and recovery in order to improve the lives of people with psychosocial, intellectual, or cognitive disabilities everywhere .” The toolkit includes sets of standards that can be used to measure the quality of care being offered in mental health care facilities and ensure that dignity and human rights are being upheld.
Other indicators that dignity in mental health care is being upheld include:
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