A third of UN member states don’t permit people with mental illness the right to vote or marry

A global survey, funded by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), of laws and policies in 193 United Nations (UN) member states reveals the level of discrimination faced by people with mental illness in the areas of marriage, voting rights employment and right to contract.

The survey results were included in the ‘Social Justice for People with Mental Illness’ report published in the International Review of Psychiatry and conclude that:

• Thirty-severn per cent of countries prohibit marriage by people with mental health problems
• In eleven per cent of countries, mental problems can render a marriage void or can be considered grounds for annulling a marriage
• In thirty-six per cent of countries, people with mental health problems are not allowed to vote
• In nearly a quarter of countries, there are no laws preventing discrimination in the recruitment of people with mental health problems
• In over half of countries, there is no explicit protection in laws against dismissal/termination/suspension of employment on grounds of health reasons including mental health problems
• Thirty-eight per cent of countries deny right to contract to persons with mental health problems
• Forty-two per cent do not recognize the right of people with mental health problems to write their own will and testament

The findings have led the WPA to create a Bill of Rights for Individuals with Mental Illness which urges ALL governments to ensure that persons with mental illness/mental disability/mental health problems are not discriminated against based on their mental health status, and are treated as full citizens enjoying all rights on an equal basis with others. The Bill of Rights has been supported by eighteen organizations. 

Dinesh Bhugra, President of the World Psychiatric Association said: “Those with mental illness/mental disability/mental health problems have the capacity to hold rights and exercise their rights and should, be treated on an equal basis with other citizens. The challenge for policy-makers, clinicians, and individuals with mental illness is to fight discrimination using strategies similar to civil liberties, gender equality, sexual minority (LGBT) communities, which in many parts of the world have proven to be useful.”

He continued, “It is important, that clinicians around the globe work with patients, their carers, and their families, as well as with relevant organizations representing these groups, to challenge discrimination, change laws, and ensure that these are applied equally. There is simply no explanation for continuing discrimination against individuals with mental illness, their families, and those who care for them, whether they are professional or lay carers.”

Mental health was set as a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, highlighting that world leaders recognize the promotion of mental health and well-being as a health priority within the global development agenda. UN state leaders therefore committed to the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases, including behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development. One of the targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to reduce premature mortality from these diseases by one third by 2030 through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.