Mental Health- A Human Rights Issue

June 22, 2019

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This article is written by Ashish Sharma of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. In this article, he is discussing the rights provided to a mentally ill person by various Conventions and the Indian Constitution.


The concept of Human Rights attracts as no other branch or field of law. This concept helped us realize that law is very vast, dynamic and unparalleled. The way Human Rights encompasses and deals with various topics which are otherwise ignorant appeals a lot. The denial of rights to the mentally disabled community is a big question mark on the very foundation stone of Human Rights. This denial must be eradicated and hence our sensitivity, concern and knowledge must become a connecting platform through which we can deliver our services to the deprived.

But the irony lies in the fact that Human rights are available, they are also recognized, but they are not accessible to the people who want them most. It is totally agreed that the women and the children are very prone to the violation of rights as they are considered weaker in the society but the most prone are mentally disabled people who themselves are not aware of their rights.

Every person other than that of the mentally disabled is capable of availing the remedies available to them. These people are most vulnerable as they possess this unique ability to remain silent after being a subject of violation and exploitation in a closed four-walled room.

The relationship between mental health and human rights can be easily divided into three parts. First, human rights violations, such as displacement and torture, negatively affect mental health. Second, coercive treatment practices of mental health patient can impact human rights. 

Finally, the advancement of human rights leads to the benefit of mental health, i.e. can say their advancement walk-in cooperation. There are thus economic and clinical reasons, as well as moral and legal obligations, to advance human rights in mental health care.

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Mental Health as a human right

As human beings, our health and the health of our loved ones is a matter of daily concern. Regardless of our gender, age, socio-economic background, we consider our health to be our most basic and essential asset. The development of mental health is somehow restricted due to social, psychological and biological factors.

Pertinent Laws

In this article, we will be discussing provisions of certain International Conventions to protect the rights of mentally ill people and particularly focussing on the provisions embedded in the Constitution of India to protect such people from the adversities of society.

International Policies

1. UN Principles for the Protection of Mental Illness and Health Care( The MI Principles 1994)

The MI principles were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1991. The MI principles provide the non-binding standards which the mental health systems of the countries should meet to cure the mental disorder of the people. Basically, there are 25 principles provided by the document for the protection of the rights of the persons with mental illness. Some of the major principles are discussed below:

Where treatment is given to an individual without his prior consent every sort of effort should be made by an individual to inform the patient the nature of the treatment and possible alternatives also to involve the patient in the treatment plan.

2. UN Convention on Rights of Person with Mental Disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted on ‘13 December 2006’. The Convention includes the wider category of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with any type of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It clarifies how all rights apply to the persons with disabilities and identifies areas where changes to be made in legislation of various countries to effectively enforce the rights of mentally ill persons with proper protection of their interest.

The Basic provisions mentioned in the convention are as follows.

The Convention marks a standard shift in the attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the capability of a person suffering from mental illness to claim his rights and become an active member of the society.

Indian Constitution

The Constitution of India does not discriminate any person and applies uniformly to every legal citizen of India, whether they are healthy or disabled (physically or mentally). But, provisions of mentally ill patients have been neither specifically mentioned in any code nor specifically elaborated or prescribed by the judiciary in India. Under the Constitution of India, the disabled have been guaranteed the fundamental rights which are as follows.

Implementation gap in the policies

Maximum available resources

Despite the impact of mental health conditions on individuals, families and communities, there is an insufficient investment of both financial and human resources in the area of mental health. Global annual spending on mental health is less than $2 per person and less than $0.25 per person in low-income countries. This affects the provision of services, as inadequate numbers of staff, often with insufficient training, especially in the area of human rights, are required to deliver services which are in accordance with human rights standards.

A poorly informed public

Very little information is available to the public on any of the issues relating to mental health, whether it is on mental well- being, protecting against depression or identifying symptoms of serious mental illness. They are even less aware of treatment facilities and their rights. Without information, there is no advocacy. Without advocacy, there is not enough demand for services and system accountability to provide equitable and good quality mental health care.

Provision of services in a segregated manner

Although there has been progressing over the last few decades, the segregation and centralization of mental health services around psychiatric hospitals and institutions continue to pose a challenge in certain important respects. The failure to integrate interdisciplinary mental health services into primary care renders a “whole person” approach extremely difficult.


Mentally disabled people are most vulnerable to exploitation as they are incapable of understanding the nature of activities. Though various principles are laid down by International Conventions, they are vague as they are non- binding on the states. But these conventions bring the paradigm shift in the attitude and approaches to persons with disabilities.


  1. “Principles for the Protection of Persons with mental illness (“The MI Principles”)”, Available at http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/46/a46r119.htm
  2. Manish Lakhawat, “Human Rights of Mentally ill Persons”, Available at http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/mentai.htm
  3. Legal Rights of the disabled in India”, Available at http://vikaspedia.in/education/parents-corner/guidelines-for-parents-of-children-with-disabilities/legal-rights-of-the-disabled-in-india
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