World Health Organization New Guidelines Are Vital To End Coercive Psychiatric Practices & Abuse

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a damning report [“Guidance on community mental health services“, 9 June 2021] that lashes out against coercive psychiatric practices, which it says “are pervasive and are increasingly used in services in countries around the world, despite the lack of evidence that they offer any benefits, and the significant evidence that they lead to physical and psychological harm and even death.”

It points to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which in essence, calls for a ban on “forced hospitalization and forced treatment.”

Citizens Commission on Human Rights® International (CCHR Int) welcomes the report not just for recognizing psychiatric abuses and torture as being rife, but also as a vindication of CCHR’s efforts since 1969 and other groups that have fought for the recognition of patients’ rights violations that WHO now acknowledges. CCHR’s Mental Health Declaration of Human Rights, written in 1969, includes many of the rights that the WHO report now addresses.

For example, WHO points to a series of UN guidelines and Human Rights Council resolutions that have called on countries to tackle the “unlawful or arbitrary institutionalization, overmedication and treatment practices [seen in the field of mental health] that fail to respect… autonomy, will and preferences.” People who are subjected to coercive practices report feelings of dehumanization, disempowerment and being disrespected, WHO further states.

CRPD says patients must not be put at risk of “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and recommends prohibiting “coercive practices such as forced admission and treatment, seclusion and restraint, as well as the administering of antipsychotic medication, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and psychosurgery without informed consent.”

Coercive Practices Create Harm

Psychiatry has failed to take responsibility for the fact that its own coercive practices have caused the stigmatization which drives medical students and patients away from it, while it tries to blame this on its critics. WHO says stigmatization exists among the general population, policy makers and others when they see those with mental disabilities as being “at risk of harming themselves or others, or that they need medical treatment to keep them safe”—a psychiatric mantra—which results in a general acceptance of coercive practices such as involuntary admission and treatment or seclusion and restraint.

Many U.S. states allow electroshock to be given to involuntary patients against their will, constituting torture, as UN agencies have clearly stated. The WHO report specifically highlights the problem that “coercive practices are used in some cases because they are mandated in the national [or state] laws of countries.”

In Missouri, “Involuntary electroconvulsive therapy may be administered under a court order.” [RSMo 630.130]

Further, coercion is “built into mental health systems, including in professional education and training, and is reinforced through national mental health and other legislation.”

Countries must also ensure that “informed consent” is in place and that “the right to refuse admission and treatment is also respected.” “People wishing to come off psychotropic drugs should also be actively supported to do so, and several recent resources have been developed to support people to achieve this,” WHO says.

CCHR will continue to monitor and document psychiatric abuses and with this WHO guideline against involuntary treatment, refer this to attorneys who may be able to seek charges of torture where forced treatment is administered. Until laws enact the necessary protections, more pressure is needed to bring abuses to account through the courts. Contact your local, state and federal officials and express your viewpoint about this.

[See the CCHR International Press Release here.]

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