Sometimes it, simply, defies logic: How on earth can someone’s disease become his or her stigma. Mention diseases like Typhoid, malaria, fever, cold and cough, cancer, TB, etc. and no one would bat an eyelid, let alone look at you. Talk to someone in public about mental illness, and you have glances following you everywhere. The social stigma attached to mental illness is one of the most difficult hurdles on the path to its mitigation.
Treat with dignity
No wonder, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) observes the World Mental Health Day on October 10, it clearly seeks to underline the word ‘dignity’. Quite appropriately, thus, this year’s theme of the World Mental Health Day is: ‘Dignity in Mental Health’. It implies that like all other illnesses, people suffering from mental illness need to be treated well and with dignity and his or her human rights are protected.
At the back burner
Strangely enough, mental health issues across the world for long did not occupy the attention of authorities. Any mention of mental illness immediately brings to people’s mind the image of a mental asylum with patients being forcibly tied to a hook by an iron chain and patients making ugly and strange noises from behind the bars.
The seemingly filmy perceptions about mental illness have also bred numerous misconceptions about the disease and its treatment. This has lent the issue of mental illness a social stigma. Result: today a large number of cases of mental illnesses go unreported as people with the illness are reluctant to come out in the open and acknowledge that they are mentally ill.
Human rights denied
The WHO’s stress on dignity while addressing mental health issues therefore serves an important purpose by encouraging people to take mental illness and people suffering from it more seriously. Unfortunately, due to the stigma attached to the mental illness, people with such conditions are being denied their basic human rights across the globe.
Mental, physical abuse
There have been umpteen reports of mentally ill persons being maltreated, discriminated against, stigmatised and marginalised. Such patients also often have to face physical and mental abuse at health facilities and at the hands of the community they live with. In the absence of qualified mental health experts and doctors their suffering increases manifold.
This year, WHO launches an awareness campaign to ensure that people with mental health conditions can continue to live with dignity, through human rights oriented policy and law, training of health professionals, respect for informed consent to treatment, inclusion in decision-making processes, and public information campaigns.