‘Recovery’ in mental health a human rights issue

It may be a common sense assumption that when someone enters the world of treatment for their emotional or mental health issues their intention is to be relieved of their suffering, emerge healed and whole from the treatment. But does it really happen? Is there any way to know how many people actually exit the (mental health) system? Is anything going on in the treatment process that can actually lead to someone’s recovery?

By and large experiences of vast numbers of people are that once they enter into the system they are told by psy-professionals (and other medical professionals) of all hues that they would now have to rely on psychiatric medication for the rest of their lives. This insistence on medication, which is borne out of the agreed upon knowledge which all psy-professions draw from, invalidates the day-to-day suffering of people into a predetermined ‘illness’ category, complete with a diagnosis and prognosis. In 2019, I wrote this article which can be downloaded or read here or here which problematizes this aspect of treatment and questions what the goals of such treatment are.

It may be common sense assumption that when someone enters the world of treatment for their emotional or mental health issues their intention is to be relieved of their suffering, and emerge healed and whole. But does it really happen? Is there any way to know how many people actually exit the (mental health) system? Is there anything going on in the treatment process that can actually lead to someone’s recovery?

Research suggests that recovery is mostly not a goal psy-professionals target when they start treating people for their mental health issues. For most people the starting of treatment itself is ‘recovery’ because according to professionals the fact that people’s suffering has been recognized is itself a great victory over their ignorance: of being a mere suffering, while it is actually a real ‘illness’. However the truth from a ‘patient’s’ perspective is that until people take pharmacological treatments they believe themselves to be ‘ill’ or ‘sick’ and therefore not quite recovered. From the ‘patients’ ‘ position it is the ending of the treatment process and exiting psychiatry that counts as real recovery, not interminable treatments. Whether or not mental illness is a real illness is itself a topic of big discussion and debate, which I postpone for another location as of now.

Knowledge about recovery missing

When there is a gap in the social knowledge about a situation it has consequences; both for individuals, families and society as a whole. For example until penicillin was discovered by Alexander Flemming, a number of people would die for reasons as simple as flu or pneumonia. Antibiotics gave a new lease of life to people around the world and heralded a new era which cumulatively brought newer efforts that prolonged human life expectancy.

In the context of mental health when people are not aware that they can recover and they choose instead of continue taking medication, their lack of information is a knowledge or information gap. Instead of recovery their bodies become sites for testing newer drugs, yet no advancement produces the desired ‘cure’. When drug treatments continue for decades people not only become chronic patients, they also slowly develop  co-morbid conditions such as thyroid malfunctions, liver damage, akathisia (I have written about it here), seizures, lupus and scores of other conditions, not to mention the ‘regular’ issues of hypertension, diabetes etc.

A lack of information about the possibility of recovery, which leads to never ending treatments is the issue  addressed here. This knowledge or the lack of it, also called epistemic ignorance in research, becomes an issue of justice first of all. When people have unequal access to information in society, even though we  live in the information age: the internet having created unprecedented possibilities for diffusion of ideas, only the idea of rising incidence of mental health issues are widely publicized, especially by the media and myriad psy-professionals. Treatments that do not end and progressively disable people, making them socially outcast and confined to their domestic spheres become an issue of justice- for what then are these treatments intended for?    

Why human rights issue

When a patient or their caregiver is told by a psy-professional that their treatment is for life more often than not they do not question it, but accept the ‘diagnosis’ as a truth or fact. Treating people and the inability to produce a healing or cure, or letting them exit psychiatry by supporting drug withdrawal is not common or heard of. Long periods of remaining on these drugs makes people more and more disabled and socially marooned   for they lose the confidence to deal with life, situations and other people.

The information of recovery is a right to knowledge about the idea of recovery. It is a   right of every person who is on drug treatments to know how long their treatments would be and what alternatives exist. Until people do not realize that their interests and rights are being compromised if they continue taking drugs passively it will not help them, while pharma corporations will keep making steady incomes and rising profits. This is a gap of knowledge which can only be filled by people who have taken the path of recovery or who understand the injustice of denying people the knowledge about their mind and body. In one of my future pieces I will write about how the new Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 also does NOT support recovery and ensures people remain ‘patients’ ad infinitum, once they enter into the mental health system (that being the work I did for my doctorate)

Thank you for reading. If there is something more you would like to know about recovery from mental health challenges, or have a personal concern, you are welcome to post a query or comment in the comment box below. Prateeksha would be happy to respond to it, if necessary, even with a new blog post.

Essays on the Concept: “RIGHT TO LIVE” / Homage to Yougindra Khushalani

This ESSAYS on the Concept of a “RIGHT TO LIVE” by Marion Harroff–Tavel

In memory of Yougindra Khushalani

Dr. (Miss) Yougindra Khushalani

Just as peace is not simply the absence of war, but rather a dynamic process of co-operation among peoples, life is not simply the antithesis of death, but rather a period of time during which every human being should be able to develop fully in dignity and in enjoyment of the respect of others. This was the profound conviction, imbued with humanity and solidarity with the most vulnerable among us, that inspired Yougindra Khushalani, an eminent Indian lawyer and Vice President of the Association of International Consultants on Human Rights (CID), to conceive the idea of a “right to live“. It is to this intelligent, highly motivated and courageous woman, whose own life ended so tragically early, that the authors of this collection of essays​*​ pay tribute by developing the ideas that were so dear to her, each in his own special sphere of interest. All the contributors are eminent figures in the world of human rights and international humanitarian law, which she studied in depth during a period spent at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

How does the “right to live” differ from the more familiar “right to life“?

The right to life, guaranteed by numerous provisions of human rights instruments and international humanitarian law, is specifically asserted in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which permits no derogation from this right, even when an exceptional public emergency is threatening the life of a nation. As stated in Article 6 of the Covenant, it is an “inherent right” of every human being. The article goes on to say: “That right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life”. Several paragraphs of the same article deal with the death penalty, which is also the subject of an essay in the book, based on the preparatory work in drafting the Covenant.

The “right to live” is an extension of the “right to life“. To live is more than simple existence; it implies the enjoyment of living conditions conducive to the full development of the human person. To have enough food, a home, adequate education and medical care, to be able to work under proper conditions, to move about and express oneself freely, to grow up in a healthy and peaceful environment where all traditions and cultures are respected; these are some aspects of the “right to live”. Furthermore, during the time given him, from birth to death, every individual should be free from fear, fear of insecurity, fear of ill-treatment, torture, “disappearance”, summary execution or the menace represented by the arms race. Even in wartime, indeed, particularly in such circumstances, a “margin of humanity” must be preserved thanks to international humanitarian law. It is difficult to sum up in a few lines the rich content of this work, which covers a score of subjects such as the right to a decent environment, to development and to communications, and the issues of peace, disarmament and scientific and technological progress. Several of the problems involved in giving effect to the “right to live” are also taken up: the role that could be played by the many existing voluntary organizations in improving the quality of life, the protection of migrant workers, the impact of the “brain drain” on developing countries, the “right to live” in the African context, the right of children to be protected from death, disease and exploitation. Finally, the right to be different—from the point of view of a woman from the Third World, Yougindra Khushalani, who attached the greatest importance to the need to respect the cultural identity of peoples. The book concludes with several essays on State responsibility for the protection of the “right to live”.

This publication is far from being a heterogeneous collection of mismatched opinions; it is a harmonious work which illuminates the central theme of the right to live from various angles. In this respect the task undertaken by the general editor, Daniel Premont, has proved a success.

Is now the right time to put forward a new human right on the basis of the concept of a “right to live“? Isn’t this idea in effect a synthesis of all human rights? These questions remain open, and it is up to each reader to form his own opinion. The value of this “comprehensive and evolutive” concept of human rights, to borrow the title of one section of the book, seems to us to be essentially an educational matter. As one of the authors says, work to raise young people’s awareness of human rights issues must not be limited to providing them with information, but must help prepare them to live together in harmony in tomorrow’s society, a society which the adults of today find it difficult to imagine. This is a major and difficult educational undertaking. An approach to the problems of the human community based on the concept of the “right to live” would help stir the awareness of children to values such as respect for life and tolerance, would open their eyes to the realities and diversity of the world and, most important, would give them a sense of their own responsibility by making them realize that solidarity among human beings is the source of collective and individual fulfilment.

Marion Harroff–Tavel

  1. ​*​
    Essays on the concept of a “Right to Live”, in memory of Yougindra Khushalani, Bruylant, Brussels, 1988,324 pp., bilingual, English and French. Daniel Pr6mont, general editor, Mary Tom, editor, Paul Mayenzet, co-ordinator, Association of International Consultants on Human Rights (CID).

Other Links to Dr. Yougindra Khushalani