Jolijn Santegoeds – Why forced psychiatric treatment must be prohibited

Translation of Dutch article “Waarom gedwongen GGZ behandeling verboden moet worden”

Why forced psychiatric treatment must be prohibited
29 March 2016, by Jolijn Santegoeds, founder of Stichting Mind Rights[1], Co-chair of World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (WNUSP)[2], board member of European Network of (Ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP)[3]

Click here to download the article:
Why forced psychiatric treatment must be prohibited_29 March 2016


For centuries there has been resistance against forced admission in institutions, confinement in isolation cells, tying persons up with fixation-straps, the forced administration of medication, forced electroshocks, and other forced psychiatric treatments.

Coercion is not care
Coercion is one of the most horrific things that people can do to each other, while good care is actually one of the best things that people can offer to each other. There is a fundamental difference between coercion and care.

Coercion works countereffective to wellbeing, and leads amongst others to despair, fear, anger and grief for the person concerned. During coercion the voice of the person is ignored, and their boundaries are not respected. Coercion does not lead to more safety, or recovery of mental health. On the contrary: By suffering, powerlessness, and a lack of support, the risks for increasing psychosocial problems and escalation increase. Coercion is the opposite of care.

Coercion means a lack of care
Forced psychiatric interventions are not a solution, but are a problem for mental health care. For a long time, the existence of forced treatments, which enables caregivers to turn their back to the crisissituation and leave the person behind without actual support, is undermining the real development of good care practices.

Good care is possible
Good care can prevent coercion. By a respectful attitude and good support, problems and escalation can be prevented successfully, which makes coercion obsolete[4]. Real care is possible.

Efforts are needed
Despite the fact that all stakeholders in Dutch mental health care want to ban coercion[5], the total number of the use of coercion (the number of  legal measures RM and IBS) is rising annually. There are however specific initiatives to reduce coercion at various locations, such as the development of HIC (High/Intensive Care psychiatry)[6], where they aim to prevent solitary confinement by enabling intensive support. On the other hand there is an enormous rise in outpatient coercion (conditional measures), as well as in incidents with “confused people”. It has been concluded a number of times, that the practices are “persistent”, and that the culture is “hard to change”.

Learning from history
Europe has a long history of xenophobia against persons with psychosocial problems. Ever since the 15th century there have been special prison-like “madhouses”, where persons were chained and locked up like beasts, and exorcisms were common. After the discoveries of Charles Darwin and the Renaissance (17th and 18th century), the medical sector started to arise, followed by the arrival of the first Dutch Lunacy-law in the 19thcentury, which arranged “admission and nursing of lunatics in mental hospitals”, with the goal to provide “more humane” care as compared to the madhouses. The young medical science comprised a diversity of perceptions, and in the 20th century a lot of experiments followed, such as hot and cold baths, lobotomy, electroshock and so on. The “special anthropology”[7] or racial-science and eugenics, focussed on the search for the perfect human being, and “racial hygiene” to “avoid deterioration of the race”, openly doubting the capacities of certain populations, which resulted in genocide which didn’t spare psychiatric patients (WOII).

After these dark pages in history, universal declarations of human rights were established, emphasizing the value of each human being, and gradually the community became more tolerant. However, psychiatry hardly changed and held on to the questionable and experimental foundation, with confinement, regulation regimes, and experimental treatment methods as the unchanged core of the treatment range. Currently, efforts are still made to force persons into behavioural changes with the argument that they are “incapable of will” themselves, and not able to express preferences. This is absolutely incorrect: Every person sends signals. The challenge is to deal with that in a good way. Real care notices the person behind the behaviour. Professional care is something totally different than primitive repression of symptoms.

It is time to draw a line. It is urgently needed to recognize that mental health care got on a wrong track by history. Harsh ‘correction’ of persons until they are found ‘good enough’ is not a righteous goal of mental health care. It should be about wellbeing. Coercion is a revealed mistake of mental health care. Innovation is needed.

Worldwide need for coercion-free care
All over the world forced treatment exists. Extremely atrocious images are known from poorer parts of the world, with chained people for example in Asia[8] and Africa[9], but also in our own country with Brandon[10] and Alex[11]. As long as the western world keeps claiming that coercion is the same as good care, these scenes will be harder to ban, especially since several countries have high expectation of the western approach. It is important to come up with good solutions in the world wide search for coercion-free care.

Call by the United Nations
Since 2006, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)[12]exists, which illustrates that a worldwide change is needed towards persons with disabilities. Several UN mechanisms clarify that coercion in care is a violation of human rights[13][14][15][16], also when it comes to the Netherlands[17][18]. A change is needed.

What’s next?
This is an important question.
What do we want now? Are we finally going to make it really right?
Are we going to show ourselves from our best sides?

A real change of culture is needed. Mental health care needs to reinvent itself, and put an end to the confinement and the use of coercion. Good care is possible.

“Yes but it is not possible…”
Commonly heard reactions are “These are good ideals, but not realistic” or “There is no other way, because the system isn’t supportive” or “The community is totally not ready for this”. The implicit assumption that a culture change would be ”unrealistic”, indicates limited perspective, hope and ambition. The system is in our hands. We are the current generation. Change is possible. The world is changing constantly. Also mental health care can change[19][20], as can the public opinion. We are not powerless or insensitive. Efforts are needed to make the world better and nicer together. We can do that.

Change can feel scary. Without positive history or good practices elsewhere it may be a bit harder to imagine that everything can be different, but this cannot be a reason to just give up immediately. We do not question ourselves whether stopping all hunger in the world is realistic before we start with that. Every person counts. Real care is possible and needs to be realized, also in acute and complex crisis situations. Practices of abuse need to stop instantly. This is the task that has been given to our generation. It is worth to unite all our efforts to make the historical shift from exclusion to inclusion.

Also the remark “Yes but coercion is needed, as long as there are no alternatives”  needs to be refuted here. Coercion is not care, but it is abuse, and there is no valid excuse for abuse. Coercion is never needed. Good care is needed.

Making human rights a reality
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) gives a momentum for change. If everyone cooperates now, throughout all layers of the system, then the intended change gets an unprecedented impulse. The articles of the UN-Convention offer a guidance, which enables worldwide coherent action. The UN Convention offers vast opportunities to change the world.

Together we can ban forced psychiatric treatments. When there’s will, there’s a way. In history, confinement was put central, and by now we know better. So we have to do better too. A largely unexplored world is ahead of us.

Key points
It is not easy to change the mental health care system, and the confidence in mental health care doesn’t restore without efforts. Several things are necessary to change the situation sustainably:

-Realise good care
The old fashioned psychiatry is not founded on human rights, diversity and inclusion, but on xenophobia and exclusion. Science has focussed so far on homogenising the community, and attempts to change the people (a bodice and check box mentality). Modern mental health care should focus on enabling a heterogeneous and  diverse community, by creating the right conditions in the community and to enable self-determination, liberty and inclusion, so that everyone can be happy and live a fulfilling life in our community. A fundamental reform is needed in mental health care.

Wellbeing – or mental health – is a very personal intrinsic value, which cannot be produced by coercion. Recovery from psychosocial problems is not an isolated process of the person concerned, but is closely intertwined with the social context of the person, such as chances in life, social acceptance and inclusion. The range of care needs to be reviewed fully, and adapted to the requirements of today.

Deprivation of liberty needs to be stopped immediately. The organization of care of good quality is necessary and urgent, and cannot be postponed any longer. The previous guidelines under the law BOPZ of 1994 to use coercion “as little as possible” and “as short as possible” have failed obviously, and the numbers on the use of coercion (legal measures RM and IBS) continuously keep on rising annually, and have more than doubled in the past 10 years. This trend is unacceptable, and therefore something really needs to change now. A need for support cannot be a reason for deprivation of liberty. Good care is possible.

Without good care, the mess will only transfer. It is absolutely necessary to make all possible efforts right now to provide care of good quality, including good care in crisis situations.

– Legislation: prohibit coercion, arrange care
The legislation on forced psychiatric treatments needs to be changed. The goal of mental health care is not: Treating vulnerable persons in a rough way, but the goal is to provide good care, also in crisis situations. A transition is needed.

The lunacy law dates from 1841, from a time when the medical profession was absolutely in it’s infancy. The law BOPZ of 1994, and also the law proposal on Mandatory Mental Health Care (recent) have a similar structure of legal measures RM and IBS, and resp. confinement and forced treatment form the core. This system is not founded upon awareness of human rights, and it is not about care of good quality, and it has to change.

Forced treatment is abuse. Legislation needs to protect all citizens from abuse. When the government participates in the abuse against certain groups, this is torture[21][22], which is absolutely prohibited. The laws on coercion, such as BOPZ and the law proposal on Mandatory Mental Health Care are therefore unacceptable.

Legislation is meant to offer a fair framework for the community. A prohibition of forced treatments is necessary because of human rights[23]. Additionally, certain legislation can speed up the provision of good care and organize innovation[24]. It is possible to create laws that are really useful to the community. Wouldn’t that be great?

– Compensation: Recognize the seriousness
For years and years, the government and countless caregivers have taken over the lives of psychiatric patients, and forcefully subjected them to “care”, such as horrible forced treatment, isolation cells, forced medication, restraint-belts, electroshocks, all motivated by so-called “good intentions”. The sincerity of those responsible can now prove itself by genuine recognition of the suffering that many had to endure. A compensation would be appropriate: When you break something you have to pay for it. We consider that very normal.

* Apologies are needed to recover the relation between (ex-) users and caregivers.
* Recognition of the trauma’s by coercion, and support in overcoming these if desired.
* Compensation to show that the change of attitude is genuine.

Now it’s time to show that the Netherlands is indeed a civilized country.

Take action
I would like to call on everyone to contribute to the change in culture. Let’s ensure together that human rights will be realized for every human being, and that old-fashioned psychiatry disappears, and that mental health care only comprises good care.

Please spread this message to raise awareness.



To reinforce the above plea, I have attached a description of my personal experiences with forced psychiatry, which can be found via this link:

“16 years old, depressed and tortured in psychiatry – A testimony on forced psychiatric interventions constituting torture and ill-treatment”



This publication is part of the ‘Absolute Prohibition Campaign’, see


[1] Actiegroep Tekeer tegen de isoleer! / Stichting Mind Rights

[2] WNUSP: World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry

[3] ENUSP: European Network of (Ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry

[4] Report: Best practices rondom dwangreductie in de GGZ 2011

[5] Declaration on reduction of coercion:  Intentieverklaring GGZ: preventie van dwang in de GGZ 2011

[6] High Intensive Care HIC (HIC)

[7] Description of Racial-science e.a.: Winkler Prins Algemeene Encyclopaedie, vijfde druk, Elsevier, 1936

[8] Human Rights Watch “Living in hell – abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities in Indonesia”, 2016

[9] Robin Hammond, fotoserie “Condemned – Mental health in African countries in crisis”

[10] Brandon van Ingen, Jongen al 3 jaar vastgebonden in een zorginstelling

[11] Alex Oudman, Schokkende beelden uit isoleercel – Toen en nu

[12] UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

[13] CRPD General Comment no. 1 on CRPD article 12 Equal Recognition before the law

[14] CRPD Guidelines on CRPD article 14 Liberty and Security of Person

[15] Statement of 2 UN Special Rapporteurs “Dignity must prevail – an appeal to do away with non-consensual psychiatric treatments” World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2015

[16] A/HRC/22/53 Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E Mendez, Torture in health care settings (2013)

[17] Communication sent to the Kingdom of the Netherlands by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health. AL Health (2002-7) G/SO 214 (53-24) NLD 2/2013, October 2013,

[18] CAT/C/NLD/CO/5-6, CAT Concluding Observations on the Netherlands

[19] High Intensive Care HIC (HIC)

[20] Intensive Home Treatment (IHT)

[21] Torture, for full definitiion see article 1 CAT, Convention Against Torture.

[22] A/HRC/22/53 Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E Mendez, Torture in health care settings (2013)

[23] amongst others the right to liberty, freedom from torture / Civil and political rights and CRPD

[24] amongst others the right to health care and adequate standard of living / Social, economic and cultural rights and CRPD


ENUSP -Forced psychiatric interventions constitute a violation of rights and disable care

Human rights context

Since 2006, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) calls for a paradigm shift to break away from paternalistic laws and paternalistic attitudes towards persons with disabilities, and shift to respectful support of decision-making based on the person’s own will and preferences. The implicit call of the UN CRPD to put an end to forced psychiatric treatments has been made explicit by several publications of the CRPD Committee, and especially by the Guidelines to Article 14. The Guidelines make clear that the detention of persons with psychosocial disabilities under domestic legislation on the grounds of their actual or perceived impairment and supposed dangerousness to themselves and/or to others “is discriminatory in nature and amounts to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”[1]


Nevertheless, two UN treaty bodies currently are in conflict with the standards set by the UN CRPD: the Human Rights Committee[2] and the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) in their document “Rights of persons institutionalized and medically treated without informed consent”. Yet the Human Rights Committee admits that forced measures are harmful: “The Committee emphasizes the harm inherent in any deprivation of liberty and also the particular harms that may result in situations of involuntary hospitalization.” [3] The Human Rights Committee even recommends States parties “to revise outdated laws and practices” and says that “States parties should make available adequate community-based or alternative social-care services for persons with psychosocial disabilities, in order to provide less restrictive alternatives to confinement.” However, despite this, the Human Rights Committee acknowledges the possibility of forced measures, provided they are applied “as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, and must be accompanied by adequate procedural and substantive safeguards established by law.”[4]

Also the SPT allows forced commitment and forced treatment, but they go even further by saying that abolition would violate the “right to health” and the “right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment”. For instance, the SPT states “…placement in a psychiatric facility may be necessary to protect the detainee from discrimination, abuse and health risks stemming from illness”[5], “The measure [treatment without consent] must be a last resort to avoid irreparable damage to the life, integrity or health of the person concerned…”[6]. In addition, the SPT acknowledges restraints as a legitimate measure: “Restraints, physical or pharmacological … should be considered only as measures of last resort for safety reasons”[7], and further allows for “medical isolation”[8].

It is interesting to note that before the publication of these two documents mentioned above, the thematic report “Torture in Health Care Settings” by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/22/53), urged an absolute ban on forced psychiatric interventions, in order to ensure that persons with psychosocial, intellectual and other disabilities be free from torture and ill-treatment. However his voice apparently was not heard, as well as other voices documenting numerous violations of human rights in psychiatric institutions. One of them is the report of FRA issued in 2012, which reveals the trauma and fear that people experience, and states that “the extremely substandard conditions, absence of health care and persistent abuse have resulted in deaths of residents in institutional care.”[9]


Therefore, it can be seen that the arguments in favour of the administration of forced measures are based on false grounds, because as has been proven by numerous sources, including CPT reports and the sources mentioned above, psychiatric institutions in no case can be considered a safe haven from discrimination, abuse, torture and ill treatment. With regard to medical considerations and care we put forward the following:


Forced psychiatric interventions are not care.

Care is supposed to result in improved well-being and recovery. Well-being – or mental health – is a very personal, intrinsic value, which cannot be produced by force. Caring for one another is one of the best things that people can offer to each other. On the contrary, forced psychiatric interventions are very traumatizing, and result in suffering and more psychosocial problems. It makes the situation worse, and is amongst the worst things that people can do to each other. There is a huge difference between forced interventions and care. They are the total opposite of each other.


Forced psychiatric interventions disable care.

Forced psychiatric interventions are counter-productive to mental health and care, and represent a “breach of contact”. This can be seen on the one hand, for example, with nurses who stop trying to communicate or provide support, and resort to forced interventions. It can also be seen on the other hand, in the feelings of misunderstanding and trauma of the person subjected to forced interventions, which disable meaningful contact. It is obvious that good contact and communication are necessary for good mental health care. The end of communication, as is induced by forced psychiatric interventions, is a very harmful practice, which makes meaningful contact, and therefore mental health care in itself, impossible.


Forced psychiatric interventions do not result in safety.

Due to suffering, increased psychosocial problems, and a lack of any support for recovery caused by forced psychiatric interventions, the risks of escalation increase, and can even result in an endless circle of struggle and escalation, as our experiences show. The common argument given “to protect from harm or injury to self or others”, is not based on factual evidence supporting this statement. Forced psychiatric interventions do not result in more safety, but lead to more crises, and subsequently to greater risk of escalation.


Forced psychiatric interventions indicate a deficiency in mental health care.

Forced psychiatric interventions are more of a mechanism for (attempted) social control embedded within an underdeveloped and structurally neglected (and politically abused) system of mental health care that is built on the horrible remnants of the past, rather than on skills to support mental health and well-being. Underdevelopment and insufficient funding of the mental health care system is in place because of the extremely low political priority given to mental health care, consequently explaining the extremely low level of funding. It is impossible to deliver quality care without proper funding and attention to quality standards. However, due to historical stigma, mental health care remains unpopular with society, i.e. voters, and therefore politicians. In case of dire shortage of funding, the best possible solution for the system is to keep things calm, by delivering lots of harmful and in many cases unwanted medication to isolated people and calling it medical care. However, real mental health care is possible when efforts are made and sufficient funding is provided.


A world of options between “last resort” and “no care”

Many persons, including many States, cannot see beyond a very narrow “black and white” approach regarding psychosocial crisis situations, with only two options: either forced treatments (torture), or doing nothing (neglect). This simply isn’t the full picture. Between these two extremities, there is a largely undiscovered world of options for real support and real mental health care in psychosocial crisis-situations, with aspects such as: non-violent de-escalation, prevention of crisis in the earliest stage possible, focussing on contact and openness instead of repression, building trust and providing real support in acute crisis-situations. (Ex-) users and survivors who have experienced this are the best positioned to be involved in this shift of paradigm.


Real development of mental health care is urgently needed.

Unfortunately for decades, the real development of good care practices has been undermined by the existence of forced treatments, which has enabled caregivers to turn their back to the crisis situation, and leave the person behind without actual care, repressed and stripped of their dignity. This should stop. Forced psychiatric interventions constitute a very serious human rights violation. They can never be called care and cannot be considered a safety and anti-discrimination measure, because they lead to exactly the opposite.


We believe in the creative potential of humanity and the possibility to solve complicated problems when appropriate efforts are made. But in order to allocate the appropriate resources and generate enough creative efforts, appropriate motivation is needed. The UN CRPD standards give us and should give policymakers such motivation to realize and state publicly that the status quo in psychiatry is totally unacceptable and must be changed to a humane system of real care.


The discrepancies in the recommendations referred to above, even among different entities of the same organization (United Nations) must be eliminated and the provisions of the CRPD must prevail.


This is a challenge, but by thinking and acting together, it is possible to make this a reality.


We must keep in mind just one thing as a basis for this objective:



Forced psychiatric interventions constitute torture and ill-treatment and

must be banned!








[1] CRPD Committee’s Guidelines on article 14 Liberty and security of person, III, para.6 (September 2015)

[2] General Comment No.35, para.19 (30 October 2014)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] SPT, Rights of persons institutionalized and medically treated without informed consent, para.8

[6] Id. para.15

[7] Id. para. 9

[8] Id. para.10

[9] European Fundamental Rights Agency: Involuntary placement and involuntary treatment of persons with mental health problems, 2012. Available at:

La Prohibición Absoluta a los Internamientos Involuntarios y Tratamientos Forzados en Psiquiatría: Tensiones con los mecanismos de privación de libertad por motivos de salud mental en Chile – Francisca Figueroa


A continuación, presentamos el texto de la abogada chilena Francisca Figueroa que se suma a la campaña en Apoyo a la Prohibición Absoluta de la CDPD de los Tratamientos Forzosos y los Internamientos Involuntarios

Tensiones con los mecanismos de privación de libertad por motivos de salud mental en Chile

La campaña por la Prohibición Absoluta de los internamientos involuntarios y tratamientos psiquiátricos forzados se enmarca dentro del contexto de los art. 12, 14 y 15 de la Convención sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad (en adelante, CDPD), adoptada por la Asamblea General de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas con fecha 13 de diciembre de 2006 en la ciudad de Nueva York; la cual fue ratificada y promulgada por Chile, entrando en vigencia en nuestro país el año 2008.

El contenido específico de las disposiciones que tal instrumento de derechos humanos refiere –el cual extiende su alcance a las personas en situación de discapacidad mental o psicosocial, e intelectual (Fernández, 2010: 10)-, se encuentra aún en proceso de delimitación por parte del Comité sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad, el que recientemente se pronunció respecto al alcance del derecho contenido en el art. 14 de la CDPD, éste es, el derecho a la Libertad y Seguridad de la Persona.

Tal pronunciamiento impone un cambio de paradigma al prohibir de forma categórica y absoluta la privación de libertad de la persona por motivos de discapacidad –sea ésta,  real o aparente-, aun al considerarse que la persona se encuentra en situación de crisis o que puede constituir un peligro para sí mismo u otros (pr. 13, 14 y 15). En tal aspecto radica, el carácter absoluto de la prohibición.

Los fundamentos jurídicos de este posicionamiento radical por la no discriminación, dicen relación con el alcance del art. 12 de la CDPD, el cual impone a los Estados Partes el deber de reconocer la capacidad jurídica de las personas en situación de discapacidad en igualdad de condiciones y en todos los aspectos de su vida. Así, si bien el art. 14 impone como limitación al derecho a la libertad de la persona que ésta se ajuste a la legalidad, no es menos cierto que existen en el ordenamiento jurídico chileno, leyes que sistemáticamente niegan la capacidad jurídica de la persona en diversos ámbitos de desarrollo de su vida, lo cual se encuentra en evidente contradicción con la CDPD (Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de las Personas con Discapacidad mental, 2014), conforme se ha pronunciado el Comité sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad y el Relator Especial sobre la Tortura y otros Tratos o Penas Crueles, Inhumanos o Degradantes.

Ejemplo de esto son los regímenes de interdicción, las declaraciones de inimputabilidad penal, las normas que regulan los internamientos involuntarios y los tratamientos invasivos e irreversibles -como son, las psicocirugías, las terapias de electroshock y esterilizaciones, entre otros- en los que operan mecanismos de sustitución de la voluntad de persona (Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos [INDH], 2014), vulnerando el Principio de Autonomía contenido en el art. 3 letra a) de la CDPD que contempla “El respeto de la dignidad inherente, la autonomía individual, incluida la libertad de tomar las propias decisiones, y la independencia de las personas” y el art. 12; sometiendo a la persona a un estatus de minoridad social propio de los paternalistas sistemas de tutela decimonónicos (Castel, 2009).

Para dar cuenta de este desolador panorama, pese a la entrada en vigencia de la CDPD en Chile el año 2008, es posible constatar la siguiente situación conforme datos oficiales del Ministerio de Salud (2014):

las medidas forzadas en relación con la hospitalización han aumentado entre los años 2004 y 2012. La proporción de ingresos de urgencia se han triplicado, llegando a 30,8% del total de ingresos. Los ingresos administrativos (hospitalizaciones involuntarias autorizadas por las SEREMI de Salud) se han cuadriplicado y durante el año 2012 representaron el 6,6% de los ingresos, mientras que los ingresos por orden judicial se duplicaron, con un 5,4% para el 2012. Además, también hubo un incremento en el uso de la contención y/o aislamiento, desde 17,8% del total personas hospitalizadas en el 2004 a 26,1% en el 2012 (ídem: 53).

Así, atendido al panorama anteriormente descrito y los actuales estándares de derechos humanos a los que se ha comprometido a dar cumplimiento el Estado de Chile, deben progresivamente abolirse los regímenes administrativos de internamientos involuntarios que no hacen sino reproducir el estigma que asocia “enfermedad mental” y peligrosidad, cuestión que se advierte claramente en las disposiciones del D.S. Nº 570 del Ministerio de Salud, que permite privar de libertad a una persona “aparentemente afectada por un trastorno mental” e internarle en un establecimiento psiquiátrico por cuanto su conducta “pone en riesgo su integridad y la de los demás, o bien, altera el orden o la tranquilidad en lugares de uso o acceso público”, operando los encierros psiquiátricos a modo de auténticas medidas de seguridad predelictuales (Dufraix, 2013: 272-274; Horwitz y López, 2004: 565) y por lo demás, sin cumplir con garantías mínimas de resguardo a los derechos humanos, al carecer de control judicial, de órgano autónomo de revisión y de un procedimiento de apelación contra la resolución administrativa-sanitaria que priva de libertad a la persona contra su voluntad (INDH, 2014: 120; Ministerio de Salud, 2014: 37).

Si bien se ha planteado como un avance en la materia la creación de la Comisión Nacional de Protección de las Personas afectadas por Enfermedad Mental y las Comisiones Regionales establecidas en virtud de la Ley 20.584, se hace indispensable advertir que éstas dependen tanto en su constitución como en su funcionamiento de la autoridad administrativa a quien debe controlar y observar, careciendo de facultades resolutivas vinculantes y por tanto, no siendo apta para garantizar un resguardo imparcial de los derechos humanos conforme el compromiso adoptado por Chile al ratificar la CDPD. Sobre este punto, el Comité sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad ha sido explícito al referir que los Estados Partes deben establecer mecanismos independientes de vigilancia y garantizar la participación de la sociedad civil en las labores monitoreo (pr. 19).

Por otra parte, los alcances de la Prohibición Absoluta invitan a re-pensar a la luz de la CDPD, el régimen de inimputabilidad penal y la utilización de los internamientos psiquiátricos involuntarios y tratamientos forzados en instituciones de salud mental a modo de medidas de seguridad, conforme se contempla en el art. 457 del Código Procesal Penal. Éstas, fundadas en la declaración de peligrosidad de la persona en ausencia de culpabilidad, no sólo privan del ejercicio de derechos fundamentales careciendo de regulación constitucional (Falcone, 2007: 248), sino también, vulneran los actuales estándares de derechos humanos que comprometen a los Estados Partes a reconocer la capacidad jurídica de las personas en situación de discapacidad en todos los ámbitos de la vida. Al respecto, el Comité ha recomendado la eliminación de las medidas de seguridad, incluyendo las de tratamiento médico obligatorio en instituciones psiquiátricas (pr. 16, 20).

La objeción a este posicionamiento es evidente. ¿Qué sucede si la persona se encuentra “descompensada” y creemos que puede llevar a cabo comportamientos que afecten los derechos de los otros?. Es en ese punto donde el Comité ancla su posicionamiento en la no discriminación, al recordarnos que tanto las personas en situación de discapacidad como las que no, tenemos el deber de no causar daños a los demás (pr. 14), así como contamos con la libertad para disponer de nuestra integridad e incluso nuestra vida, cuestión que hace que las autolesiones y la tentativa de suicidio no sean punibles en el Código Penal. Por tanto, ¿Qué justifica el privar de libertad a una persona en situación de discapacidad en base a un pronóstico de peligrosidad –y en el caso de los internamientos administrativos, no habiendo cometido la persona hecho constitutivo de delito alguno-, siendo que todas las personas contamos con el mismo deber respecto a los derechos de demás e idéntica libertad de disposición respecto a los derechos propios?. La respuesta es que tal privación de libertad no se ancla sino en una evidente manifestación de discriminación por motivos de discapacidad, prohibida explícitamente por el art. 14 de la CDPD.

La campaña por la Prohibición Absoluta es en una invitación a enterarnos de los nuevos estándares de derechos humanos que rigen en materia de privación de libertad y tratamientos forzados por motivos de salud mental, los que han hecho propias las voces de críticos y sobrevivientes de la psiquiatría que han padecido la violencia del modelo psiquiátrico, justificado por la ideología terapéutica que específicamente se analiza por el Relator Especial sobre la Tortura y otros Tratos o Penas Crueles, Inhumanos o Degradantes en sus Informes A/63/175 y A/HRC/22/53, extendiendo a estas prácticas no consentidas las categorías de tortura y malos tratos, dando aplicación al art. 15 de la CDPD que contempla tal prohibición.

De esta manera, hacemos una invitación a cuestionar las racionalidades que justifican la vigencia de un estatuto legal paralelo respecto a las personas etiquetadas con diagnósticos psiquiátricos, el cual permite privarlas de libertad en base a criterios que se imponen a modo de pensamiento único a través de la hegemonía del modelo médico-psiquiátrico en salud mental, negando la autonomía de la persona y controlando sus diferencias en el plano psíquico a través del uso de la violencia.

Francisca Figueroa San Martín, Abogada. 


Castel, R. (2009). El orden psiquiátrico. Edad de oro del alienismo. Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión.

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2015). Guidelines on article 14 of 

the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The right lo liberty and security of persons with disabilities. [en línea] Ginebra, Suiza. Disponible en:

Dufraix, R. (2013). Las medidas de seguridad aplicables al inimputable por condición mental en el Derecho Penal Chileno. Tesis Doctoral. Universidad del País Vasco.

Falcone, D. (2004). Una mirada crítica a la regulación de las medidas de seguridad en Chile. Revista de Derecho de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. XXIX, pp. 235-256.

Fernández, M. (2010). La discapacidad mental o psicosocial y la convención sobre los Derechos      de las Personas con Discapacidad. Revista de derechos humanos – dfensor. (11), pp. 10-17

Horwitz, M. y López, J. (2004). Derecho procesal penal chileno, Tomo II. Santiago: Editorial Jurídica de Chile.

Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos [INDH], (2014). Situación de los Derechos Humanos en Chile. Informe Anual 2014. [en línea] Santiago. Disponible en: [Último acceso 15 Marzo 2016].

Ministerio de Salud, (2014). “Evaluación Sistemas de Salud Mental de Chile”. Segundo Informe, 2014. Informe sobre la base del Instrumento de evaluación del sistema de salud mental de OMS (OMS IESM/ WHO AIMS). [en línea] Santiago de Chile. Disponible en: [Último acceso 12 Febrero 2016].

Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de las personas con Discapacidad mental (2014). Derechos humanos de las personas con Discapacidad mental: Diagnóstico de la situación en Chile.  [en línea] Santiago de Chile.  Disponible en:[Último acceso 13  Marzo 2016].

Organización de Naciones Unidas [ONU], (2006). Convención sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad y Protocolo Facultativo. [en línea] Nueva York. Disponible en: [Último acceso 15  Marzo 2016].

The contested freedom of the ‘scary’ – Karlijn Roex

The contested freedom of the ‘scary’: the use of coercion in psychiatry violates basic human rights

Detention, solitary confinement, forced drugging; throughout history, societies have had the tendency to aggressively constrain people with psycho-social disabilities and preferred an security-obsessed instrumentalism above universal human rights. But recently, the use of coercion in psychiatry is a highly debated practice in human rights circles; witness the latest report of Human Rights Watch[1] on shackling. This increased interest has gotten a great impulse by the recent release of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Drawing upon scientific work, ‘user’ narratives and moral principles, I support the call made by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to abandon the use of coercion in psychiatry.

According to authoritative documents of the Convention[2], the use of coercion in psychiatry is a form of discrimination of people with psycho-social disabilities, and violates the right of these people to enjoy autonomy and personal integrity. These principles are to be respected, regardless of any instrumental benefits that may result from applying coercive psychiatric interventions. But the perceived instrumental benefits are exactly why the use of coercion in psychiatry has long gone uncontested. And these benefits have moral significance too. People have the right to be protected against themselves, or against dangerous fellow-humans. In fact, many proponents of coercion in psychiatry follow this ethical ‘lesser evil’ reasoning. According to them, it is allowed to introduce an evil when a greater evil is prevented by this. Thus, such a lesser evil argument justifies the abandonment of some key fundamental human rights. This is dangerous, because human rights are typically abandoned during the times in which they are most needed[3]. In fact, these human rights are meant to protect our scapegoated minorities from being oppressed during times of public fear. In times of public fear, some human rights become a privilege of the non-scary, or if one prefers, of the ‘respectable section of society’[4]. In the context here, the lucky ones are the people without psycho-social disabilities. The scary, by contrast, have to deal with a contested freedom.

Coercive psychiatric interventions are decisions or actions imposed on the individual, without his/ her informed consent, based on psycho-social disability. In this regard, the CRPD has also come out against the use of this danger standard, or any other criteria, as a way of legitimizing psychiatric detention[5]. To be clear, the coercive interventions that are discussed here are not taken because of a criminal suspicion or criminal conviction. Today, most countries allow coercive psychiatric interventions only when an individual is considered dangerous to him-/herself or to others. However, the initial assessment of dangerousness is taken by psychiatrists only. A court is not yet involved in this initial decision to psychiatrically detain an individual. This is highly problematic, because the psychiatric perspective and security-obsessed instrumentalism are clearly dominating the process of key decision making, at the cost of the human rights perspective. At the moment where the psychiatrists’ initial decision is critically reviewed, marks of shame have already been added to the affected individual. Not only has this mark of shame been added through the unfavourable initial psychiatric guess, which gains much epistemological authority in our societies, but also because of the very stigmatizing practice of the detention itself[6]. It is then much harder for the affected individual to win credibility.

We therefore see that the conditions for coercive psychiatric interventions have become stricter over time, but that they fail to seriously challenge the practice of arbitrary detention. This may explain why the ‘stricter’ danger standard has not led to a decrease in the number of psychiatric detentions[7]. Probably, the innovation has rather served to silence any critical voices from the human rights corner. This silencing has been achieved by incorporating insignificant parts of the critical demands into the existing policy, without meaningfully changing any inherently oppressive and discriminatory principles[8]. Apparently, there is a high demand in society to confine people with psycho-social disabilities, and one of the main drivers behind this demand is a perceived danger.

Protecting people against themselves: the right not to be a false positive[9]

But what is wrong with this dangerous-criterion? Is it, for instance, not our moral duty to protect people from themselves when needed? Obviously, it is! But we should become reflect one more moment about our ability to assess mental states: when is someone to be considered a danger to him-/ herself? Let me take suicide as an example. As a researcher in this topic, the literature clearly shows me that assessing the risk of suicide in individuals is a very difficult task. Most people that disclosure suicidal thoughts do not commit suicide, especially women[10]. Secondly, psychiatric risk assessments are proven to be really unreliable[11], leading to many ‘false positives’: people who are considered a danger while they are actually not. The statement whether someone is a danger, is in fact a hypothesis about mental states and future behaviours. These are unobservable things that are hard to measure. Even when an individual has committed self-harming acts in the past, this does not necessarily make him dangerous for the present, or the future. Test results are likely to be biased and steered by common prejudices about people with psycho-social disabilities[12], ethnic minorities, and the poor[13]. Worse, the dangerousness claim is strictly not falsifiable, at least at a short term: how can one prove today that one will not kill himself soon? As a consequence of this, many individuals are subjected to coercive interventions because they were wrongly labelled as ‘dangerous’ and cannot easily escape this label. Escaping the dangerousness-label is made even more difficult by general mistrusting attitudes of hospital staff towards mental patients[14], and the fact that people tend to start behaving conform the stigma over time, due to its adverse effects on them[15]. The accumulation of humiliating interactions, which would frustrate every normal person, can lead to responses that can be termed as ‘aggressive’. How would you respond if you learn that you were wrongly informed about your legal status[16] concerning something as important as your freedom?

These ‘false positives’ are vulnerable people, just like people who are a real danger to themselves. But is it actually a wise strategy to expose such people to some of the very traumatic coercive psychiatric interventions? There are numerous accounts of patients or ‘ex-users’ of psychiatry that indicate how stressful and traumatic these interventions were to them. Indeed, some human rights advocates define some of these interventions as torture. There are even indications that exposure to such interventions can lead to post-traumatic stress symptoms and suicide[17]. There are user narratives that indicate that individuals without any previous suicidal tendencies became suicidal after being exposed to coercive interventions, such as solitary confinement. User narratives indicate how humiliating these experiences can be, with people losing their personal integrity, humanity and dignity. Affected individuals often carry along these feelings until long after the incidents.

Protecting people against their dangerous fellow-citizens: contesting the freedom of the ‘Other’

But what if a person is not a danger to him-/ herself, but to others? When we want to be protected against our dangerous fellow-citizens, then what is morally wrong with that? Well, nothing, but of course we have to come with reasonable grounds and evidence of this supposed danger. The mere existence of a psycho-social disorder, cannot point towards a certain danger. When an individual tells me that he is going to harm me, he can be prosecuted for threats. Most countries have also criminalized several public order disturbances. We can already prosecute anybody who has visibly undertaken preparations for committing a criminal offense, or who has clearly tried to commit a certain crime. Therefore: we already have a great law that protects us against dangerous fellow-citizens: the Criminal Law! Even greater, this law protects the citizen against the state and an over-feared community. We cannot just convict an individual because of a mere suspicion; instead, conviction requires that we have some tangible evidence against this individual.

With this great law in mind, why would we create another law especially for people with psycho-social disabilities? Because we are afraid of people with psycho-social disabilities. A mere suspicion of dangerousness in a person with mental illness is already terrifying enough, isn’t it? Why then bother about visible evidence for a criminal conviction? Mental health laws are the dubious innovation of a frightened society. These laws enable communities to incarcerate individuals with psycho-social disabilities when we suspect that they are dangerous. This suspicion is backed with test results from, again, very unreliable and biased psychiatric risk-assessments. As a consequence, we have created two types of citizenship: the ‘normal’ citizens and the scary semi-citizens. The latter group has found his freedom contested: it can be denied at any time, as soon as a suspicion of dangerousness arises. Whereas the majority of us can feel safe and count on the basic human rights principles that respect our freedom and integrity, there is a group in our society whose members can simply be detained without the regular battery of legal requirements.

This is an inconvenient leak in our modern democracies, and should concern every citizen. No citizen can find himself guaranteed at the ‘right’ side of the divide, because the boundaries between mental illness and normality are time-dependent and not nature-given. In the past, we have seen the ‘psychiatrization’ of homosexuality, political dissent, and poverty. This teaches us that mental health laws are a convenient way to subtly discipline certain categories of people; much more smoothly and subtly than explicitly prosecuting these deviants through criminal courts[18]. And although our societies are now to be considered ‘free-minded’, or ‘post-modern’, we should always be aware of the disciplinary potential of mental health laws. This disciplinary potential can be toxic in combination with the timeless fact that we are never aware of the oppressive ideas of our own time.

In all, let’s give it a shot and abandon the use of coercion in psychiatry towards history. Fear makes that we immediately grab towards the so-called ‘last resort’ of a coercive intervention, whereas there are instances in which a simple conversation would already help. Such a conversation would also help us, learning about the specific and different logics behind madness, and therefore render it a little bit less unpredictable and scary.

Karlijn Roex is a PhD-candidate in Sociology and human rights activist. She lives in Germany.

[1] Human Rights Watch (2016, March 20). Indonesia: Treating Mental Health With Shackles. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 21 March 2016, from:

[2] See for instance: CRPD. (2015). Guidelines on Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – The right to liberty and security of persons with disabilities. New York: United Nations; CRPD. (2014). General Comment No. 1 (2014). Article 12: Equal Recognition Before the Law. New York: United Nations; United Nations Human Rights Committee (2015, October 10). Dignity must prevail – An appeal to do away with non-consensual psychiatric treatment World Mental Health Day. United Nations. Retrieved 10 March 2016, from:

[3] Hudson, B. (2009). Justice in a Time of Terror. British journal of Criminology, Delinquency and Deviant Social Behaviour, 5(49), 702-717; Roex, K.L. A. & Riezen, Van. B. (2012). Counter-Terrorism in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom: A Comparative Literature Review Study. Social Cosmos, 3(1), 97-110.

[4] Berger, P.L. (1992). Sociology as a Form of Consciousness. In H. Robboy & C. Clark (edit.), Social Interaction. Readings in Sociology (pp. 6-22). Richmond: Worth Publishers.

[5] See for example CRPD. (2015). Guidelines on Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – The right to liberty and security of persons with disabilities. New York: United Nations.

[6] Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums. Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Anchor Books; Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders. New York: The Free Press.

[7] At least in Europe. See: Salize, H. J., Dressing, H. & Peitz, M. (2002). Compulsory Admission and Involuntary Treatment of Mentally Ill Patients – Legislation and Practice in EU-Member States. Brussels: European Commission.

[8] This strategy to silence critics is widely analysed by the Foucaultian sociologist Mathiesen: Mathiesen, T. (2004). Silently Silenced. Essays on the Creation of Acquiescence in Modern Society. Winchester: Waterside Press. See also on this specific topic: Harding ,T.W. (2000): Human Rights Law in the Field of Mental Health: a Critical Review. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 101: 24-30

[9] Borrowed from Steadman, H. J. (1980). The Right Not to be A False Positive: Problems in the Application of the Dangerousness Standard. Psychiatric Quarterly, 2, 84-99.

[10] Cannetto, S. S. & Sakinosky, I. (1998). The Gender Paradox in Suicide. Suicide & Life Threatening Behavior, 28(1), 1-23 and Möller-Leimkühler, A. M. (2003). The Gender Gap in Suicide and Premature Death or: Why Are Men So Vulnerable? Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosc, 253: 1-8.

[11] Steadman, H. J. (1980). The Right Not to be A False Positive: Problems in the Application of the Dangerousness Standard. Psychiatric Quarterly, 2, 84-99; Madsen T, Agerbo E, Mortensen PB, Nordentoft M (2012) Predictors of psychiatric inpatient suicide: a national prospective register-based study. J Clin Psychiatry 73:144–151; Steeg S, Kapur N, Webb R, Applegate E, Stewart SL, Hawton K, Bergen H, Waters K, Cooper J (2012) The development of a population-level clinical screening tool for self-harm repetition and suicide: the ReACT self-harm rule. Psychol Med 42:2383–2394; Ryan C, Nielssen O, Paton M, Large M (2010) Clinical decisions in psychiatry should not be based on risk assessment. Australas Psychiatry 18:398–403.

[12] Link et al., (1999).Public Conceptions of Mental Illness: Labels, Causes, Dangerousness, and Social Distance. American Journal of Public Health, 89(9), 1328-1333; Perscosolido, et al. (2013). The ‘Backbone’ of Stigma: Identifying the Global Core of Public Prejudice Associated With Mental Illness. American Journal of Public Health, 103(5), 853-860.

[13] The population of involuntarily hospitalized psychiatric patients contains an overrepresentation of low-income indiivduals, black people, and people of an ethnic minority. See for example: Salize, H. J., Dressing, H. & Peitz, M. (2002). Compulsory Admission and Involuntary Treatment of Mentally Ill Patients – Legislation and Practice in EU-Member States. Brussels: European Commission.

[14] Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums. Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Anchor Books.

[15] Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders. New York: The Free Press.

[16] Something that appears to happen quite often in EU countries: see Salize et al. (2002)

[17] For instance: Large, M. M. & Ryan, C. (2014). Disturbing Findings about the Risk of Suicide and Psychiatric Hospitals. Soc Psychiatr Epidemiol, 49, 1353-1355.

[18] See also the different works of Michèl Foucault on this

Aporte a la Campaña por la “Prohibición Absoluta en la CDPD de los Tratamientos Forzosos y los Internamientos Involuntarios”: María Teresa Fernández (México)

La institucionalización de personas con discapacidad es una declaración de incompetencia de las autoridades gubernamentales y de las sociedades frente al fenómeno que representa la existencia humana. Una declaración de soberbia supina y de falta de voluntad; también, de indolencia, y también, de impunidad. Nos atribuimos la facultad de decidir si una a una de estas personas debe vivir, y cómo; o debe morir – y literalmente – encerrada entre muros estrechos e indiferentes, atada a una cama, un catre, un poste; sometida a un medicamento o a un cierto trato, el que nos venga a bien dispensarle; reducida y frustrada en sus posibilidades y sueños, sin más compañía que su propia intimidad diferente y asustada. Y nos creemos juiciosos, protectores, responsables – éticos. Nos decimos humanos y nos damos baños de pureza. Mejor sería hacerlo en el Ganges.

Mi hermano fue diagnosticado con epilepsia cuando entró en la adolescencia. Se hizo alcohólico después. Me llevaba 18 años. Fue internado varias veces en distintos centros, hospitales y “granjas”. Cada vez que salía – de más en más aminorado – había perdido algo nuevo: el brillo de sus ojos, su sonrisa franca y espontánea, alguna más de sus ganas de vivir.

Y sin embargo seguimos. Seguimos sin prestar atención a lo que filósofos, teólogos, humanistas, han venido repitiendo a lo largo de la historia: el ser humano – como sus expresiones y manifestaciones – es único e irreductible, como inagotable es su potencial de existencia. Nuestra pequeñez y cortedad de miras – aunadas a nuestras ansias de “normalidad”, de resultados y de eficacia; de absurdos absurdos, pues – no alcanza, siquiera, a preguntarse lo que esas cualidades de “único” y de “irreductible”, en relación con la persona humana, puedan significar.

Si no, ¿por qué, a pesar de los tantos “avances”:  científicos, tecnológicos, garantistas de derechos, seguimos sin ser capaces de aceptar que el ser humano tiene una existencia “condenada a abrir caminos siempre nuevos y siempre sorprendentes”[1]?, ¿por qué no nos permitimos el diálogo posible – y promisorio – con las diversas percepciones y expresiones humanas de la realidad?

Cuando un niño es inquieto, o “de más” ; o un adolescente, desinteresado, o su respuesta es glacial; cuando una mujer rompe en llanto, o monta en cólera, ante – decimos – “la menor provocación”, no tardamos en enjuiciar su conducta, y diagnosticarla, y patologizarla; no sólo su conducta, su ser por entero. Son pocos y cortos los pasos para transitar del juicio al diagnóstico y de ahí a la etiqueta – que lo será, ya para siempre, incuestionable e inamovible; y luego, a la medicalización, y al mismo tiempo, o poco después, al encierro. Y en este apresurado camino nos hemos olvidado:  de él, de ella, de la persona humana que ahí vivía.  Ya hemos llegado – y con plena conciencia – al umbral. Es la muerte. Una muerte que  – pareciera que confiamos – todo lo resolverá; o por lo menos, hemos logrado que así pensando y haciendo todo se resuelva, al menos, para nosotros. La impunidad.

Cada vez que mi hermano salía de uno de esos encierros nos decía que no quería más: que se lo llevaran, que lo encerraran, que lo amarraran, que lo durmieran, que le aplicaran electro shocks. Que lo mal trataran, que lo desnudaran, que lo despojaran, hasta de su dignidad. Era intolerable. Era ominoso. Yo era muy joven. Hoy tengo 64 años. Hace 40 que mi hermano murió en uno cualquiera de esos hospitales. Sigue vivo en mí.

Estos años me han servido para aprender que a quien le importa lo humano, se propone indagar lo que hay ahí adentro de ese otro, también humano. Descubrir su razón, su interés, su necesidad, su intención, su propuesta, su expresión – diferentes. Y vestir su piel. Y estar dispuesto a moverse y a tender puentes – y cruzar esos puentes.

Por eso me pareció extraordinario que el proceso de negociación de lo que llegaría a ser la Convención de Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de las personas con discapacidad (CDPD, 2006),[2] hubiera asumido ese reto:  abrir sus puertas – y poner oídos atentos – a lo que las propias personas con discapacidad psicosocial tenían que decir sobre ellas mismas: que son seres humanos, iguales, íntegros e integrales, redondos; formados e  informados; presentes, pensantes, sintientes, activos y comprometidos; con las mismas necesidades y búsquedas de cualquier otro ser humano – y con los mismos derechos y obligaciones; y aún así, cada una y cada uno, con maneras y expresiones distintas, únicas, propias, privadas: las suyas. Como usted, apreciable lector; como yo también, y como todas y todos. Y tan así, que la intervención de estas personas con discapacidad en las negociaciones para la Convención conmocionó – impactó –, y fue capaz de crear posibilidades nunca antes vislumbradas, para ellas, para las y los demás: Un camino al diálogo real con la diversidad.  El inicio de un movimiento franco hacia la aprehensión – y la inclusión – de formas variadas de ser y estar en el mundo. Para desde ahí, aprender. Y desde ahí, convivir. Desde ahí, transformarse y transformar.

Hasta entonces, no había pasado todavía que alguien defendiera públicamente, y con tanta fuerza y claridad, que no es posible vivir ignorando o aniquilando a seres humanos, y por el simple hecho de no ser capaces – nosotros – de inteligir sus maneras; o porque molesta que griten fuerte y disonante cuando el mundo les duele; o porque amenazan los referentes de los útiles y cómodos statu quo.

Las personas con discapacidad psicosocial desmantelaron  – en y con la Convención – uno a uno de los mitos que nos hemos fabricado sobre ellas: su indefensión, su fragilidad, su “peligrosidad”; su incapacidad: de tomar decisiones, de asumir obligaciones y responsabilidades; de vivir en este mundo y atreverse a cuestionarlo; de aportar, de enriquecer-nos.  No es gratuito, entonces, que – en y desde la Convención –, no quepa más hacer distingos sobre ellas. O no, si para atentar en contra de su dignidad, o para propiciar que se vulneren sus derechos; tampoco para someterlas a escrutinios y valoraciones groseras, autoritarias y sin fundamento, o al menos, moral. O para que alguien pueda atribuirse la facultad de poder decidir a su juicio lo que mejor les conviene, o de recluirlas en instancias en las que todo lo pierdan, incluso su autonomía y su libertad; incluso su dignidad.  Lugares donde queden – sometidas e impotentes – bajo el control absoluto de otra u otras voluntades – nunca la suya – y se lacere su integridad. ¿Qué razón – y qué derecho – le asiste: al Estado, a los profesionales de la salud, a las familias, a la sociedad en general, para permitirse un acto semejante?, me pregunto y se lo pregunto, sí, a usted, apreciable lector o lectora.

Todas las personas con discapacidad han sido reconocidas por la Convención con la misma dignidad y derechos que el resto de las personas.  Derechos de las personas con discapacidad – “incluidas aquellas que necesitan un apoyo más intenso” (Preámbulo CDPD, inciso j)) – son que se respete su dignidad y su valor; que se respete y aprecie su diferencia, tanto como su autonomía, su independencia y su libertad para tomar sus propias decisiones  – incluso, cuando estas decisiones puedan no coincidir con las nuestras, o nuestras opiniones y creencias – o nuestra voluntad; o nuestros intereses. Es también un derecho de todas las personas con discapacidad –reconocido por la Convención– que se les proporcionen los apoyos que ellas estimen necesitar para tomar sus propias decisiones (Artículo 12.3 CDPD), incluida la de dónde y con quién vivir, y sin que se vean obligadas a vivir con arreglo a un sistema de vida específico (Artículo 19. a)CDPD). También es derecho de ellas disponer de los servicios de apoyo que faciliten su existencia y su inclusión en la comunidad y eviten que se les separe o aísle de ésta (artículo 19. b) CDPD).

El Comité de Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad (CRPD), en su Observación General No.1,[3] ha abundado sobre el alcance del derecho de las personas con discapacidad a tomar sus propias decisiones y que éstas sean respetadas: “en todo momento, incluso en situaciones de crisis, deben respetarse la autonomía individual y la capacidad de las personas con discapacidad de adoptar decisiones,” (O.G.No.1 CRPD, Párr.18). También ha afirmado que entre estas decisiones se incluyen aquellas “decisiones fundamentales con respecto a su salud” (O.G.No.1 CRPD, Párr. 8); y más específicamente, el Comité ha reconocido el derecho de las personas con discapacidad a no ser internadas contra su voluntad en una institución de salud mental y a no ser obligadas a someterse a un tratamiento de salud mental (Artículo 14 CDPD) (O.G.No.1 CRPD, Párr. 31). También el Comité CRPD ha dejado en claro que todas las formas de apoyo en la toma de decisiones que las personas con discapacidad opten por recibir, “incluidas las formas más intensas, deben estar basadas en la voluntad y las preferencias de la persona, no en lo que se suponga que es su interés superior objetivo.” (O.G.No.1 CRPD, Párr. 29, Inciso b)).

Lamento profundamente que nada de esto fuera del dominio público cuando yo era niña. Cuando mi madre, al no disponer de los recursos necesarios: información, asesoramiento, apoyos y servicios – porque no existían, o eran inaccesibles – no encontró mejor opción para él, para ella y para mí, que poner a mi hermano a disposición de los médicos. Ella creyendo que sabían lo que era debido hacer; ellos alegando saberlo, a pesar de que un número incontable de historias – entre las que después se contaría también la de mi hermano – testimoniaban fehacientemente lo contrario.

Gracias a mi involucramiento con los procesos sobre la Convención de Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad, he aprendido que es éticamente insostenible pretender – usted, yo, los gobiernos y las sociedades – seguir ignorando las incuestionables e infinitas realidades y posibilidades humanas. Que es inadmisible seguir apelando a maneras arcaicas y lugares comunes para enmascarar nuestra incapacidad de derribar barreras, estigmas y prejuicios, o nuestra falta – evidente – de voluntad. Como la que reconoce el valor de otras existencias y mantiene con ellas interacciones fecundas; la que incursiona en nuevas formas de acercamiento a las situaciones y de brindar atención y cuidados.

Hace 40 años no existían los servicios y los apoyos que habrían llevado la historia de mi hermano por otros caminos, hoy lo sabemos, menos crueles y fatales; que habrían permitido que él – con la debida asistencia – encontrara sus propias respuestas.  Al día de hoy, esos servicios y esos apoyos siguen sin estar disponibles, o aquí, en mi país. A saber a cuántas más vidas les han hecho falta también para crearse y recrearse a sí mismas; a cuántas personas más su inexistencia las sigue condenando al olvido – o a la muerte. De las grandes claves para el cambio, y algo tan sencillo y a la vez tan crucial para producirlo, hoy sigue sin ser habitado; sin siquiera ser explorado; o aquí, en mi país. Esto también es inaceptable.

Es por todo eso que yo me pronuncio – y decididamente – por la “Prohibición Absoluta en la CDPD de los Tratamientos Forzosos y los Internamientos Involuntarios”. 

Porque, en resumen, considero que estas prácticas:

  • Son reductivas de la persona humana y de la situación existencial que experimenta;
  • Van contra la dignidad, la autonomía y la libertad de las personas con discapacidad (Art. 3 CDPD);
  • “Medicalizan” problemas que son de índole social, en los que intervienen otros elementos contextuales: familiares, sociales, e incluso políticos, que entonces son ignorados, desatendidos y perpetuados; incluso, profundizados;
  • Son invasivas, autoritarias y jerárquicas, al aplicarse a las personas aún en contra de su voluntad;
  • Son cuestionables en sus fines, en sus efectos y consecuencias – muchas irreversibles y fatales –, y en su efectividad.
  • Refuerzan los estigmas y prejuicios sociales sobre las personas con discapacidad psicosocial, al utilizar categorías diagnósticas que – además de cuestionables – encasillan arbitraria y vitaliciamente a las personas, haciéndolas vulnerables a la exclusión, a la discriminación y a la muerte – la social, la biológica;
  • Son violatorias de derechos inalienables de las personas con discapacidad como, entre otros, el derecho a no ser privadas de su libertad por motivo de discapacidad (Art. 14 CDPD); el derecho a otorgar su consentimiento libre e informado sobre los tratamientos médicos que se le propongan (Art. 25. Inciso d)); el derecho a la integridad física y moral (Art. 16); el derecho a vivir de manera autónoma e independiente en la comunidad y a ser incluida como parte activa y necesaria de ella (Art.19 CDPD).

Con mi pronunciamiento en apoyo a la “Prohibición Absoluta” quiero honrar la memoria de mi hermano, sí; pero también porque yo misma soy persona con discapacidad, en mi caso motriz, y sé lo que es y significa ser discriminada y excluida por tener una discapacidad. Pero, además, porque si bien he logrado evitar ser diagnosticada o etiquetada como persona con discapacidad psicosocial, yo también encuentro muy difícil lidiar con los tantos absurdos de nuestro mundo, y acomodarme, y cada vez, en alguna de sus escasas y limitadas formas permitidas de ser y de estar en él.

Y porque sueño.  Sueño con una humanidad polifónica y multiforme; lo suficientemente abierta, crítica y dialogante para permitirse tender hacia la otredad, en lugar de ignorarla, repudiarla o temerle; una humanidad que sabe vivir junto al otro y crear –con él–  realidades e intercambios nuevos, permeables, interdependientes, nutricios. Sueño mujeres y hombres convencidos de que toda y cualquier expresión humana – por ajena o chocante que nos resulte o parezca – no puede, al final, sino complementarnos, fortalecernos, enriquecernos.

Y porque sé que tarde o temprano así se habrá demostrado.

[1] Boff, Leonardo. Tiempo de la trascendencia, el ser humano como un proyecto infinito, Santander, Sal Terrae, Brasil, 2000.
[2] ONU, Convención sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad, Resolución A/RES/61/106, Sexagésimo primer período de sesiones, Asamblea General, Naciones Unidas, del 13 de diciembre de 2006. Entró en vigor el 3 de mayo de 2008. Disponible en:
[3] ONU, Observación General No.1 (2014) sobre el Artículo 12: Igual reconocimiento como persona ante la ley, Comité sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad, 11º período de sesiones. ONU Doc. CRPD/C/GC/1, del 19 de mayo de 2014.

Pueden leer más de la Campaña #ProhibiciónAbsolutaen: 

Paula Caplan – Myths are Used to Justify Depriving People Diagnosed as Mentally Ill of Their Human Rights

Who in this world ought to have the right to make decisions about their lives, and who is required to lose that right and have the medical community and the courts take over?

Despite the fact that no one in history, not even the omnipotent American Psychiatric Association — which produces and profits mightily from the “Bible” of mental disorders — has come up with a halfway good definition of “mental illness,” and despite the fact that the process of creating and applying the labels of mental illness is unscientific, any of those labels can be used to deprive the person so labeled of their human rights. This is terrifying. It ought to terrify those who are so labeled and those who are not, because deprivation of human rights on totally arbitrary grounds is inhumane and immoral.

The combination of the specter of terrorism and highly publicized incidents of gun violence have led rapidly to politicians, therapists, and the general public blaming “the mentally ill” for these dangers, and that is used to justify depriving not just terrorists and other killers but anyone with a label of mental disorder of their rights. They can be locked up against their will, they can be ordered to comply with just about anything that a professional calls “treatment of the mentally ill,” no matter how these actions can harm the person and in the absence of scientific evidence that the “treatments” of people who have been psychiatrically labeled will prevent violence. In other words, the huge leap is often made from “This person has a psychiatric label” to “This person is therefore dangerous to themselves and others,” even in the absence of any history or current indication of such dangerousness, and that leap is then used to lock people up and/or otherwise “treat” them against their will.

Now the United Nations human rights treaty called the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities includes the absolute prohibition of forced commitment and forced treatment, and the brilliant and tireless advocate Tina Minkowitz is leading a campaign to show that there is a wide base of support for these prohibitions. This is especially important in the United States, because 162 nations have ratified the CRPD, but the U.S. has not.

Minkowitz worked on drafting and negotiations for the treaty from 2002-2006 and helped ensure the incorporation in the CRPD of Article 12, which says that “states,” countries and national governments bound by international law recognize that people with disabilities have the right to make their own decisions in all aspects of life and to do so free from coercion. Note that “people with disabilities” applies to anyone who has received a diagnosis of any mental disorder (in addition to other disabilities). It is important to note the CRPD’s Article14, which specifies according to the text and the authoritative interpretation by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that the existence of disability or perceived disability cannot be used to justify deprivation of liberty, and Article 25 requires that healthcare be provided on the basis of free and informed consent. The word “perceived” is crucial, in light of the fact that the ballooning numbers of categories listed as mental disorders in the two primary handbooks used to classify people as mentally ill have made it possible, even likely, that anyone entering a therapist’s or other professional’s office in other than a calm and happy state will be diagnosed as psychiatrically disordered, moving just about anyone into the “perceived as disabled” category. So one crucial myth that is relevant to the CRPD is that psychiatric diagnoses are scientific and usually appropriately applied.

If no harm came from being classified as mentally ill, there would be less cause for alarm. But it is easy, even likely, for laypeople, therapists and other healthcare professionals, and judges to assume wrongly that having a disability (even a perceived disability) means that one’s judgment is impaired and that one should not be allowed to make choices about their lives, their bodies, and the treatments to which they will be subjected. Frequently, the criterion of “dangerous to oneself and/or others” is used to justify forced commitment or forced treatment, and this is done despite the proven fact that people diagnosed as mentally ill are actually less likely than others to commit acts of violence and more likely to be victims of violence. The evidence for this pattern is all the more remarkable, given that for a number of reasons (e.g., defense attorneys trying to get psychiatric labels for their clients in order to obtain reduced sentences or diversion from prison to the mental health system; the skyhigh frequency of prisoners being diagnosed as mentally ill so that they can be heavily medicated and thus reduce the need for prison staff), statistics in the near future are likely to show an increasingly high correlation between psychiatric labels and violence. Thus, two other crucial myths that are relevant to the CRPD are that people who have received psychiatric labels are likely to be incompetent to make choices about their lives and that they are more likely than other people to be violent.

A fourth crucial myth is that forced commitment and forced treatment are beneficial (and, by implication, not harmful). That this is a myth is reflected in the high rates of suicide that follow inpatient treatment and the increased rates of suicide caused by many psychiatric drugs, as well as the plummeting rates of recovery and increased rates of longterm disability that have followed the introduction of various psychiatric drugs into the market and the use of electroshock.

Another myth is this: The important word “orthogonal” applies to the question of whether people diagnosed as mentally ill are able to make their own choices and whether they have good judgment. We all know people who have no psychiatric labels but who make terrible choices and poor judgment, yet those limitations are not used to deprive the of their human rights. These capacities are orthogonal to whether or not one has been diagnosed as mentally ill, meaning that knowing whether or not a person has a diagnosis is simply not a predictor of their judgment and ability to make good choices for themselves. A related myth is that if someone is diagnosed as mentally ill, all of their decision making power must be wrenched away from them, when — as with many people who are not so diagnosed — sometimes what the person needs is a little support of various kinds, including assistance with filling out forms or practical help with cooking or shopping or getting a service animal during times when they are struggling.

The CRPD standard is for people who have or are perceived to have disabilities must be provided the opportunity to give free and informed consent. That is very far from what happens with the vast majority of people treated by psychotherapists, not to mention those who are deprived of their human rights. Consider this: Psychiatric diagnosis is the bedrock, the first cause of everything bad that happens to people in and through the mental health system. If they do not diagnose you, they cannot treat (or “treat”) you, whether or not the treatments are helpful to you. But almost no one who enters a therapist’s office is ever fully informed and thus almost no one is put in a position where they even might give informed consent. Why? There are three reasons:

  1. They are almost never told, “In order for your insurance to pay my bills, I will have to give you a psychiatric diagnosis, but you have the right to know that psychiatric diagnoses are unscientific, that getting one does not help alleviate suffering, and that getting one carries a wide array of risks of harm, from plummeting self-confidence to loss of employment and of child custody and of security clearance…even to death from treatments that are justified on the basis of your label.”
  2. They are almost never told, “I am recommending Treatment X, but I am going to tell you everything about the potential benefits and potential kinds of harm that can result.” The reason they are almost never told this is that these days, the vast majority of treatments are with psychiatric drugs, and lawsuits have repeatedly revealed that the drug companies purposefully conceal much of the harm, so there is no way for conscientious therapists to get that information and thus no way for them to convey it to their patients. Something similar happens with electroshock and with expensive but intensively marketed programs called things like “neurobiofeedback” that have not been shown to be helpful but that are often very costly.
  3. They are almost never told, “I am recommending Treatment X, but I am also going to describe for you the huge array of approaches that have been helpful to people who are going through what you are going through … and that often carry little or no risks of harm.”

Alarmed about the lack of disclosure, which puts suffering people who seek help in the mental health system at huge risk of harm with no way even to know what questions to ask and what recommendations to challenge, I organized the filing of nine complaints to the Ethics Department of the American Psychiatric Association, because that APA publishes and hugely profits from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), whose categories had been used against the complaints with tragic effects. We said that if the APA had honestly disclosed the unscientific nature of its categories and the risks of harm, as well as that getting a label would be helpful largely or only in order to get insurance coverage for treatment, the complainants would not have blindly accepted their labels and the treatments that were justified to them on the basis of the labels (“You have Disorder Y, so you should accept Treatment Z, because that is what is used for people with Y”). The APA dismissed the complaints on spurious grounds and with not one iota of attention to their merits.

Five of those complainants then filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The complaints were filed pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to which people can be discriminated against by being treated as though they are disabled (mentally ill in these cases) when in fact they are not. All of the complainants had been experiencing upsetting life situations but should by no means have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Yet according to the (falsely-marketed as scientific) DSM, they were mentally ill, and the treatments that were justified on the basis of their labels had had devastating consequences for them. The OCR dismissed the complaints on spurious grounds and with no attention to their merits.

The outcomes of these complaints provide a solid paper trail revealing that in the United States, the enterprise of psychiatric diagnosis is entirely unregulated. This makes it even less regulated than the major financial institutions whose unregulated actions seriously damaged the economy. The paper trail shows that both the lobby group called the APA, which earned more than $100 million from the last edition of the DSM and spent not one cent to reveal the truth about its manual or to warn of the harms they knew about, and the government entity (OCR of HHS) that by all rights ought to provide oversight and regulation, have chosen to do nothing. This makes it all the more compelling for all of us to press for the United States government to ratify the CRPD. The loss of human rights of just one of us through fraudulent advertising, cover-ups, and perpetuation of dangerous myths is the loss of human rights of us all.

As a U.S. citizen, I am embarrassed and appalled that as this country discusses whether or not to ratify the CRPD, it wants to add what are called “RUDs,” reservations, understandings, and declarations created by the current federal administration and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to Minkowitz, these include the claim that U.S law already fulfills or exceeds the obligations our country would have under the CRPD treaty. The above described complaints that we filed — and the rejection of those complaints by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Civil Rights gives the lie to that claim, since there is simply no governmental regulation of psychiatric diagnosis, and diagnosis is the sine qua non of forced commitment and forced treatment.

* * * * *

Originally posted on

This blog is a contribution to the Campaign to Support the CRPD Absolute Prohibition of Commitment and Forced Treatment. To see all of the Mad in America blogs for this campaign click here.

Paula J. Caplan, PhDPaula J. Caplan, PhD, is a clinical and research psychologist, activist, Associate at the DuBois Institute, Harvard University, and the author of 11 books, including one that won three national awards for nonfiction and two about psychiatric diagnosis. Her books include They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal and the edited Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis.

-We are not violating the human rights. -Yes, you are! by Anne Grethe Teien


Psychiatric human rights violations are often  denied and trivialized, even distortedly re-defined as “human rights” and “right to necessary health help”. The UN convention for the rights of persons with disabilities, CRPD,  is changing that. CRPD demands an absolute prohibition of forced psychiatric treatment and involuntary commitment. These are important requirements in giving people with psychosocial disabilities equal human rights. In this text, I will look at different aspects of the CRPD related to that demand. I will illustrate with some references to Norway, the country where I live, showing ways in which the Norwegian Mental Health Act does not comply with the convention. I will also share some further reflections. Towards the end I have written a short version of my own experiences from forced psychiatry.  Mental health laws may vary between countries, but some elements are prevalent: the laws are typically directed specifically towards people with psychosocial disabilities and involve forced treatment and involuntary commitment . This text is written for the Campaign to Support CRPD Absolute Prohibition of Forced Treatment and Involuntary Commitment (17). Procrastinations must stop – CRPD-based law reforms must begin!

Norway and the CRPD 

Norway ratified the CRPD June 3rd 2013, but came up with some interpretative declarations of article 12, 14 and 25 that undermine central parts of the convention (1).  Norway uses these declarations to try to defend the Mental Health Act and forced psychiatric treatment. In February 2015, the president of the Norwegian Psychological Association, Tor Levin Hofgaard, wrote an article asking for a clarification from the government whether health personnel violate the human rights when they follow the coercion regulations in the Mental Health Act (2). He referred to a report sent to the authorities in December 2013 by the then Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud –  LDO, Sunniva Ørstavik (3). The report said that the Mental Health Act is discriminatory and does not comply with the CRPD. LDO also urged Norway to quickly withdraw its interpretative declarations. In public, the LDO report was met with a noisy silence by the authorities.  So, as time had went on, Hofgaard asked for the mentioned clarification.  Anne Grethe Erlandsen, State Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Care Services, answered on behalf of the Norwegian authorities: “Vi bryter ikke menneskerettighetene” / – We are not violating the human rights (4). That answer is absolutely not right.

Norway uses much coercion in psychiatry. In spite of reduction strategies, the use of coercion stays at stably high levels (3: p.6-8; 5: p.20-23). Also, reduction strategies instead of CRPD-based abolishment strategies do not go to the core of the issue. Norway is used to see itself as a human rights protective nation and often does not hesitate to criticize other countries for their human rights violations. So it is maybe hard for the authorities to take in that the state of Norway  is actually accepting torture and other severe human rights abuses in its own mental health system, via the Mental Health Act.  Point 42 of the CRPD General Comments No 1 says as follows:

As has been stated by the Committee in several concluding observations, forced treatment by psychiatric and other health and medical professionals is a violation of the right to equal recognition before the law and an infringement of the rights to personal integrity (art. 17); freedom from torture (art. 15); and freedom from violence, exploitation and abuse (art. 16). This practice denies the legal capacity of a person to choose medical treatment and is therefore a violation of article 12 of the Convention. States parties must, instead, respect the legal capacity of persons with disabilities to make decisions at all times, including in crisis situations; must ensure that accurate and accessible information is provided about service options and that non-medical approaches are made available; and must provide access to independent support. States parties have an obligation to provide access to support for decisions regarding psychiatric and other medical treatment. Forced treatment is a particular problem for persons with psychosocial, intellectual and other cognitive disabilities. States parties must abolish policies and legislative provisions that allow or perpetrate forced treatment, as it is an ongoing violation found in mental health laws across the globe, despite empirical evidence indicating its lack of effectiveness and the views of people using mental health systems who have experienced deep pain and trauma as a result of forced treatment. The Committee recommends that States parties ensure that decisions relating to a person’s physical or mental integrity can only be taken with the free and informed consent of the person concerned.“ (6: #42)

Neglected harms and traumas – and the need for reparations

Long-term studies have shown higher recovery rates for people who were not on neuroleptics and on very low doses (14, 15). The list of potential harmful effects from neuroleptic drugs is long, including tardive dyskinesia, brain damage, cognitive decline, neuroleptic-induced supersensitivity psychosis, Parkinsonism, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, diabetes, demotivation, anxiety, aggression, suicide, akathisia [ an extreme form of restlessness which in itself can lead to suicide], neuroleptic malignant syndrome — a potentially lethal complication of treatment etc (14, 18). In a research summary on possible harms from forced psychiatry done by nurse and researcher Reidun Norvoll, she listed the following main categories:  1) violation of autonomy and of psychological and physical integrity. Deprivation of freedom of movement (deprivation of freedom). 2) Physical harm and death. 3) Violence and abuse. 4) Trauma, retraumatisation and posttraumatic stress syndrome. 5) Offences/violations, loss of dignity and experiences of punishment. 6) Psychological agony in the forms of shame, anxiety, feeling unsafe, anger, powerlessness, depression and loss of self esteem. 7) Social problems  and loss of social identity. 8) Loss of access to own coping skills and of possibilities to self development. 9) Loss of access to voluntary treatment. 10) Harmed therapeutic relationships, resentment against- and distrust in mental health services. (7: p. 16; 8: #5.3).

It can be hard to process traumas that are not acknowledged and understood as such by society in general. When mental health services represents the abuser and as it is officially seen as the mental health helper, one can be left in a very lonely situation trying to handle psychiatry-induced traumas.  I think, as part of the implementation of CRPD, there should be provided access to help and support to those who struggle with traumas and other harms from forced psychiatry.  I imagine a reality where it is possible for everyone to ask for help when they feel they need it, knowing that they have the CRPD on their side; that the state can not expose them to torture and other terrible human rights violations for being in mental pain (!).

When the necessary abolishment of discriminatory mental health laws and the prohibition of forced psychiatric treatment and commitment has become reality, I think that representatives from politics and psychiatry should publicly perform statements about- and apologies for -the severe human rights abuses that have been going on for so long towards people with psychosocial disabilities. After all the societal acceptance, silence and denial of these kinds of abuses, I think such an acknowledgement and apology is of significant importance for starting reparation work. Compensations  is also a relevant part of this.  At the same time, there should be no pressure towards victims of forced psychiatry to forgive and get over.  I strongly recommend survivor and lawyer Hege Orefellen’s appeal on the urgent need for effective remedies, redress and guarantees of non-repetition regarding torture and other ill-treatment in psychiatry (9). Her appeal was held during a CRPD side-event about article 15 and its potential to end impunity for torture in psychiatry (10). Also, in Guidelines on article 14 of the CRPD, point 24 (a-f) one can read about “access to justice, reparation and redress to persons with disabilities deprived of their liberty in infringement of article 14 taken alone, and taken in conjunction with article 12 and/or article 15 of the Convention” (11).

Danger- and treatment criteria 

The Norwegian Mental Health Act has, in addition to its danger criteria, a criterion called the treatment criterion, which does not require danger to oneself or others. The treatment criterion allows for psychiatric coercion if the person is claimed to have a severe mental disorder,  and application of forced psychiatry is seen as necessary to prevent the person from having his/her prospects for recovery or significant improvement seriously reduced; alternatively that it’s seen as very possible that the person’s condition in the very near future will significantly deteriorate without coercion (12: Section 3 – 3. 3 a). A very wishy-washy criterion indeed, which is much in use. In 2014 the treatment criterion alone was used in 72% of the cases among people commited (16: p.37).

Both the treatment criterion and the criteria regarding danger to oneself or others discriminate against people with psychosocial disabilities in that disability, or ‘serious mental disorder’,  is a premise for psychiatric coercion to apply. In other words, this discrimination is a violation of CRPD article 14 which says that the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty (13). Secondly, as the Mental Health Act allows for forced psychiatric treatment, it violates the right to personal integrity (art. 17); freedom from torture (art. 15); and freedom from violence, exploitation and abuse (art. 16). (6:#42).

Points 13-15 in the Guidelines on article 14 are also relevant in this context:

VII. Deprivation of liberty on the basis of perceived dangerousness of persons with disabilities, alleged need for care or treatment, or any other reasons. 

  1. Throughout all the reviews of State party reports, the Committee has established that it is contrary to article 14 to allow for the detention of persons with disabilities based on the perceived danger of persons to themselves or to others. The involuntary detention of persons with disabilities based on risk or dangerousness, alleged need of care or treatment or other reasons tied to impairment or health diagnosis is contrary to the right to liberty, and amounts to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
  1. Persons with intellectual or psychosocial impairments are frequently considered dangerous to themselves and others when they do not consent to and/or resist medical or therapeutic treatment. All persons, including those with disabilities, have a duty to do no harm. Legal systems based on the rule of law have criminal and other laws in place to deal with the breach of this obligation. Persons with disabilities are frequently denied equal protection under these laws by being diverted to a separate track of law, including through mental health laws. These laws and procedures commonly have a lower standard when it comes to human rights protection, particularly the right to due process and fair trial, and are incompatible with article 13 in conjunction with article 14 of the Convention. 
  1. The freedom to make one’s own choices established as a principle in article 3(a) of the Convention includes the freedom to take risks and make mistakes on an equal basis with others. In its General Comment No. 1, the Committee stated that decisions about medical and psychiatric treatment must be based on the free and informed consent of the person concerned and respect the person’s autonomy, will and preferences.  Deprivation of liberty on the basis of actual or perceived impairment or health conditions in mental health institutions which deprives persons with disabilities of their legal capacity also amounts to a violation of article 12 of the Convention.” (11: #13-15)

The laws that apply to people in the rest of society regarding acute situations and in the criminal justice system, must apply to people with disabilities too in non-discriminatory ways. The CRPD’s demand for absolute prohibition of forced treatment and involuntary commitment means that it applies both in criminal justice- and civil contexts. (11: #14, 16, 20-21, also 10-12). For people with psychosocial disabilities who come in contact with the criminal justice system, necessary support must be provided to ensure the right to legal capacity, equal recognition before the law and a fair trial. Forced psychiatric treatment and involuntary commitment can not be applied as sanctions for criminal acts and/or for the prevention of such.

Replacing substituted decision-making with supported decision-making

Substituted decision making must be replaced by supported decision making systems. Giving access to supported decision-making for some but still maintaining substitute decision-making regimes, is not sufficient to comply with article 12 of the CRPD (6: #28). From General Comment No 1:

A supported decision-making regime comprises various support options which give primacy to a person’s will and preferences and respect human rights norms. It should provide protection for all rights, including those related to autonomy (right to legal capacity, right to equal recognition before the law, right to choose where to live, etc.) and rights related to freedom from abuse and ill-treatment (…).” (6: #29)

Some who agree with the CRPD in that diagnostic criteria for coercion should be abolished, still seem fine with the idea that ‘mental incapacity’ can be used as criteria for psychiatric coercion. This is not in line with the CRPD, which neither accepts disability criteria for the deprivation of freedom nor psychiatric coercion. Here is a relevant point to note, from General Comments No1:  “The provision of support to exercise legal capacity should not hinge on mental capacity assessments; new, non-discriminatory indicators of support needs are required in the provision of support to exercise legal capacity.” (6:#29 i)

A summary of my own experiences from forced psychiatry 

I was not suicidal when psychiatry put me under the Mental Health Act and decided I should get forced neuroleptic “treatment”. I had never been suicidal. The former mentioned treatment criterion is the criterion that was used on me.  Forced psychiatry, with its locking me up, restraining me, drugging me, and keeping me on CTO when discharged from hospital, certainly did not make my life better  in any way– everything became indescribably much worse. I experienced forced psychiatry as one long punishment for having mental problems. After having been on neuroleptics for a while, my cognition, my intellectual abilities, were severely affected and reduced – and so was my language: from usually having a rich vocabulary I could just utter short, simple sentences. My body became rigid and lost its fine motor skills so I couldn’t dance anymore. A period I also had akathisia, a terrible restlessness which made me walk endlessly back and forth, back and forth. I’m trained a professional dancer and having my dance abilities medicated away was a big loss in itself. The medication took away my vitality, my sensitivity. My emotions were numbed. My personality faded away.  Then a severe depression set in – just a complete state of hopelessness – and for the first time in my life I became suicidal. Again and again I said to the staff, psychologists, doctors: – I can not be on meds. I tried to have them understand that the neuroleptics were destroying me and my life.  They communicated to me that they thought I was being fussy. They were a big wall that just would not listen to me. Respectlessly enough, some even told me –yes, told me -that I was doing better. The doctors said I would need to be on meds for the rest of my life. That was a message which just manifested the complete hopeless situation. From entering psychiatry, indeed having mental problems, but being a vital, thoughtful, and expressive person who was dancing several times a week, psychiatry  had coercively medicated me away from myself and iatrogenically made me severely depressed and suicidal . In effect a slow form of forced euthanasia . One day, while on CTO, shortly after a new forced injection in the buttocks with those horrible meds, I did a dramatic suicide attempt. I was put back into the hospital. I am very glad that I survived. Because unbelievably, a couple of months later, I was told that someone had made a bureaucratic mistake: the coercion documents had not been renewed in time, so there was nothing they could do to hold me back. Of course they would recommend me to stick to the treatment (Ha!) and not leave the hospital too fast (Ha!). I left the hospital the same day. It took me about half a year to become myself again, to be able to think and speak freely, to get my sensitivity, my emotions back, to dance, to feel human again, to feel life. I have never been in a mental hospital since then. I have never had another dose of neuroleptics. And I have never been suicidal again.  More than a decade later, I am still traumatized by my experiences from forced psychiatry.


I am very thankful to the CRPD committee for their important work. The CRPD represents a paradigm shift, and there is clearly a resistance out there to accept the full width and depth of the convention. That human rights and non-discrimination applies equally to people with disabilities should not be seen as a radical message in 2016, but sadly, it still is. Societies with their leaders need to realize that systematic, legalized discrimination and abuse of people with disabilities is based on tradition and habitual ways of thinking –not on human rights. That something has been brutally wrong for a long time does not make it more right. Forced psychiatric treatment and involuntary commitment need to be absolutely prohibited.

Thank you for your attention.


1) MDAC:  Legal Opinion on Norway’s Declaration/Reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities


Tor Levin Hofgaard:  Bryter vi menneskerettighetene?


In Norwegian: Equality and anti-discrimination ombud (LDO): CRPD report to Norwegian authorities 2013 – summary–2013/crpd_report_sammendrag_pdf_ok.pdf


Anne Grethe Erlandsen: Vi bryter ikke menneskerettighetene


In Norwegian: LDO’s report to the CRPD committee 2015 – a supplement to Norway’s 1st periodic report


Link to download of CRPD General Comment No 1:


In Norwegian: Equality and anti-discrimination ombud (LDO): CRPD report to Norwegian authorities 2013- full version–2013/rapportcrpd_psykiskhelsevern_pdf.pdf


NOU 2011: 9. Økt selvbestemmelse og rettssikkerhet — Balansegangen mellom selvbestemmelsesrett og omsorgsansvar i psykisk helsevern. 5. Kunnskapsstatus med hensyn til skadevirkninger av tvang i det psykiske helsevernet. Utredning for Paulsrud-utvalget


Hege Orefellen: Torture and other ill-treatment in psychiatry – urgent need for effective remedies, redress and guarantees of non-repetition


CRPD 13: WNUSP side event on Article 15: Its Potential to End Impunity for Torture in Psychiatry


Link to guidelines on article 14 of the CRPD under “Recent Events and Developments”


Norwegian Mental Health Act translated to English


CRPD Convention


Via Mad in America / ‘Anatomy of an Epidemic’ (Robert Whitaker):  List of long-term outcomes literature for antipsychotics


Lex Wunderink et al: Recovery in Remitted First-Episode Psychosis at 7 Years of Follow-up of an Early Dose Reduction/Discontinuation or Maintenance Treatment Strategy. Long-term Follow-up of a 2-Year Randomized Clinical Trial


Bruk av tvang i psykisk helsevern for voksne i 2014 (report on the use of coercion in psychiatry in Norway 2014)


Campaign to Support CRPD Absolute Prohibition of Forced Treatment and Involuntary Commitment


RxISK Guide: Antipsychotics for Prescribers: What are the risks?


Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard – Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities