Documenta (México)

We at Documenta work to ensure the CRPD absolute prohibition of commitment and forced treatment for persons with psychosocial and intelectual disabilities in Mexico, particularly in connection with security measures.

The second video has English subtitles; others are in Spanish.  Please visit Documenta’s website and their YouTube channel for more information.

Published on Nov 10, 2015

Este año, Documenta presentó el caso de Arturo ante el Comité de la ONU sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad. Su caso representa la terrible realidad de las personas con discapacidad cuando se enfrentan a un proceso penal en México.

Published on Nov 27, 2015

Un corto documental sobre las dificultades de Víctor como persona con discapacidad psicosocial al enfrentarse al sistema de justicia penal de México. #CuestionemosLaInimputabilidad

En la voz de… Eunice Leyva García 1 (Abogada del Área de Litigio Estratégico de Documenta A.C.), Primera intervención/Sobre Peritajes realizados.

In Italy, we don’t have a law against torture, by Erveda Sansi


contro psicofarmaci_col_rid

Drawing by Vincenzo Iannuzzi

 In Italy, the situation in the psychiatric field, with almost no exception, has worsened from the period of questioning psychiatric institution, in the beginning of the sixties. Then, Italy has been at the forefront of the closure of mental hospitals. Not only Giorgio Antonucci, Franco Basaglia and many professionals, but also a good part of the common people, realized that psychiatric hospitals were not places of care. Civil society, then, was sensitive to the issue of smash-down asylum culture. Publications appeared, there was an open debate, workers and students organized themselves and entered in asylums to see the conditions in which their fellow citizens were locked up. They protested and denounced the deplorable conditions the internees were forced to live in.

However, since several years, we observe a re-institutionalisation process and, at the same time, in some Italian hospital’s psychiatric wards happened many deplorable facts, due to forced treatment, institutionalization and forced restraint. Some of these facts have become infamous after that committees and relatives have asked for justice, as in the case of the well liked teacher Francesco Mastrogiovanni, 58 years old, that was debated also on national television channels. Franco Mastrogiovanni, after a forced psychiatric treatment the 4th August 2009, (because of a road traffic offense: circulation, at night, on a street closed to traffic), has been heavily sedated, tied to the bed of Vallo della Lucania’s hospital psychiatric ward, and left to die after four days of abandonment. During the 80 hours hospitalization he was nourished only with saline solutions; he was tied hands and feet to the bed, in such a position that his respiratory functions where compromised, and he was sedated with high doses of psychiatric drugs, without supervision from the staff. At wrists and ankles there are 4 cm wide grazes. A hidden camera recorded everything; the video is of public domain. At the trial the responsible physicians were found guilty and sentenced to 3 and 4 years detention, that, with the mitigating clauses, they won’t have to serve. The 12 nurses were acquitted because “they obeyed an order”. The Committee truth and justice for Francesco Mastrogiovanni, asks for truth and justice. Watch also the film 87 ore (87 hours), gli ultimi giorni di Francesco Mastrogiovanni (Francesco Mastrogiovanni’s the last days) by Costanza Quadriglio.


In Italy some deaths due to forced hospitalization and/or prolonged or short-time use of mechanical and chemical restraint have been reported by the press, television and network (this mean that there are a lot of other such “incidents”, we don’t know):

27 October 2005: Riccardo Rasman dies during a coercive treatment by the policemen, for a hospitalization against his will, in a psychiatric ward in Trieste.

21 June 2006: Giseppe Casu, guilty of having wanted to pursue his peddler job in the village square, dies in a psychiatric ward in the hospital “Santissima Trinità” of Cagliari, as a consequence of a thromboembolism, after a forced hospitalization and having been heavily sedated. He was tied hands and feet to the bed, for 7 days and was sedated with high doses of psychiatric drugs against his will.

28 August 2006: A.S., the 17th of August 2006 is admitted to the psychiatric ward in Palermo, for medical investigations. A.S. died after 2 days coma, the 28th of August, probably for excessive doses of psychiatric drugs.

26 May 2007: Edmond Idehen a 38 years old Nigerian man, went voluntarily into the psychiatric ward of Bologna’s hospital “Istituto Psichiatrico Ottonello – Ospedale Maggiore Bologna”. As he tried to leave the hospital, because he did not feel cared, the doctors forced him to stay, with the help of policemen. Edmond Idehen died as a consequence of a hearth attack while nurses and policemen held him down. He was also strongly sedated with psychiatric drugs.

12 June 2006: Roberto Melino, 24 years old, dies for a hearth attack; he entered voluntarily the psychiatric ward of Empoli’s “San Giuseppe” hospital. As he tried to leave the hospital, he was forced to stay by the doctors, and obliged to take high doses of psychiatric drugs, in spite of his evident and serious breath difficulties.

15 June 2008: Giuseppe Uva, 43 years old, was brought inside a police station, because he was driving in state of high alcoholic level. There he was subjected to ill-treatments. After 3 hours he was forced to an obligatory hospitalization in the Varese’s “Circolo” hospital and was forced to take psychiatric drugs. He died because of the stress provoked by the mix of alcohol and psychiatric drugs.

30 August 2010: Lauretana La Coca, 32 years old, entered voluntarily in Termini Imerese’s “Salvatore Cimino” hospital. After 10 days of hospitalization her condition got worse, till she got into a comatose state and died.

Giuseppe D.: A man, more than 70 years old, was interned in Reggio Emilia’s psychiatric prison. His problem was that the neighbour’s daughter is a psychiatrist. His lawyer took a legal action to the European Court of human Rights, but until now there has been no answer, so the Pisa’s student group “Collettivo Antipsichiatrico Artaud”, together with “Telefono viola” from Milan, decided to release the documentation relating to this case in Internet, according with Giuseppe D.’s will, his lawyer, and his relatives.

2 April 2010: Eric Beamont, 37 years old, the 2 April 2010 was hospitalized in Lamezia. After 2 days he entered coma, so the doctors transferred him to the Catanzaro’s “Pugliese – Ciaccio” hospital, where he died. There is the suspect that the death of Eric was caused from a high dose of benzodiazepine. Diagnosis was: subarachnoid hemorrhage[1]

28 May 2015 Massimiliano Malzone died during a forced treatment.

11 July 2015 Amedeo Testarmata died during a forced treatment.

29 July 2015 Mauro Guerra died during a forced treatment.

5 August 2015 Andrea Soldi died during a forced treatment…

Unfortunately in this article we have not described isolated occurrences, but an emblematic situation of violation of human rights in the Italian psychiatric institutions.

These are just some of the “incidents” that came to the limelight, but many more of them are not known when they happen, because, for example, people who live in loneliness are involved, or people whose relatives have given their consent, or simply when people want to get rid of a person perceived as annoying. We The Mad Hatter Association, constantly of forced psychiatric treatments, during which treated people suffer heavy damages. Forced treatments are often made on request of relatives, when patients refuse to take any longer the psychiatric drugs, or when their behaviour is perceived as disturbing. A friend of us (I.M.) tried to escape, but he was chased and filled with drugs; shortly after he was found dead at the bottom of a ravine. He was 40 years old. Another friend (A.S.) was walking on a path between fields and was stopped by police, because he was known as a “mentally ill” person. Then they called the psychiatrist on duty and told him: “He was walking near the railway and could possibly have in mind to commit suicide”; so they locked him up. I know this person, who often walks in the fields, where, however, it’s easy to be located near the railway, because of the constitution of the territory. He had never the intention of committing suicide. Another acquaintance of us died, throwing himself under a train, terrified by the fact that his mother, according to the psychiatrist, would refer to forced psychiatric treatment for him. Another one (U.S.) has suffered of heavy harassment, after having reported his superior’s embezzlement, noticed during his duties as a municipal technician. He was subjected to forced psychiatric treatment, kidnapped by police in riot gear. While he was sleeping, his door was smashed down, and he was thrown on the ground face down and handcuffed. He says that at least they could have tried to open the door, which was not locked. Now he is terrified and he even fears the dark; he is forced to take psychiatric drugs.

We can not think of de-institutionalization before we have dismissed the rules that allow forced psychiatric treatment, that allow to hold a person against his will, without having committed any crime, without the right to an equitable process, based on the alleged dangerousness and only because this person was diagnosed with a mental illness.

The so called “Basaglia law” the law nr. 180 from 13.5.1978, then joined and actually regulated by Law 833/1978 articles 33, 34, 35, 64, establishes the “Accertamenti e Trattamenti sanitari volontari e obbligatori” (“Forced health verifications and treatments”). In 1978 the law nr. 180 imposed the asylums’ closure, and the elimination of dangerousness or/and public scandal as criterion for forced treatment. But in the most Italian province, asylums didn’t close. So it was necessary to make another law, (because these asylums were too expensive), the law n. 724 from 23.12.1994, art. 3 paragraph 5, which dispose that these asylums had to be closed within the 31.12.1996; again disregarded, differed until the end of 1999. In 1996 the asylum inmates in Italy were 11.516 in 62 public asylums and 4.752 in private asylums.

According to this art. 180 law, forced treatment and included forced hospitalization, are possible if there are the following conditions: 1) a person “suffering mental illness” requires urgent medical treatment; 2) refuse the treatment; 3) it’s not possible to take adequate measures outside the hospitals. Forced treatments has a maximum duration of seven days, but can be renewed if necessary and then extended if it persists for a reasoned clinical need (it’s not an exception that the duration is extended for months and years). For forced treatments and the consequently limitation of personal freedom, there must be a request signed by two physicians, an administrative validation from the Mayor is required, followed by the validation of a judicial review by the Tutelary Judge.

Legislation of forced psychiatric treatment provides ample scope for arbitrariness and it is in strong contrast to the human rights regulations, that aim at preserving even people with disabilities from inhuman and degrading treatments. For those who commit a crime, it is expected that the judicial authority, within certain specific procedural rules, sanctions or imposes restrictive measures. We constantly deal with innocent people in forced psychiatric treatment, who can no longer find a way out of the psychiatric institution.

“I have to confess”, said a psychiatrist, “to have a person completely in my power, made me feel a kind of sadistic shiver”.

In Italy the CRPD was ratified in 2009, but just at now we have not a law against torture, torture is not a crime, torture is not forbidden in Italy. So, those who torture does not violate the law. In the meantime a lot of intermediate psychiatric institutions (also called little asylums) were built. They are public or private and reimbursed from the State. A very great business is behind. Some other examples: Lazio Region President Polverini’s decree on Lazio hospital system: the number of beds in Psychiatric Institutions raise from 369 up to 629; more 70%. 50 beds for the public structure and 210 for the private structure trigger the chronicization circuit.

260 beds = 90.000 life days subtracted to the people at the cost of 10.000.000 €.

Didn’t the Basaglia Law foresee the closing up of madhouses?

  • Professor Antonucci, what is, to date, the status of implementation of the law 180?

– Apart from some single exceptional case, what proposed Franco Basaglia is not realized, but it continues a job that Basaglia obviously would not approve: authoritarian interventions, taking people by force and bring it in psychiatric clinics, which are the continuation of the asylum. The asylum was established by the authoritarian intervention: I take a person against his will, then I submit her to a series of forced interventions, which are the essence of the mental hospital”. (

The deplorable situation of the six Forensic Psychiatric Hospitals recently became more visible, after surprise-inspections of a parliamentary committee. The videos of the visits, showed by the national television, and the press releases can be found on the web. A parliamentary report had already been made in June 2010, but the photographs show a situation that until now has not yet changed. People held for decades for minor offenses, whose penalty would have expired long time since, if not repeatedly and automatically renewed.

Here below we report some data extracted from the text of the parliamentary relation on the June 2010 inspection of the 6 Italian psychiatric prisons (forensic institutions) still active (Senator Ignazio Marino, physician ,was Chair of the Investigative Committee on the National Health Care System). After the 1978 “Basaglia law”, madhouses had to be closed, but the 6 psychiatric prisons mentioned above keep doing the same job. Senator Marino was also concerned about the increasing of electroshock (from 9 institutions allowed to give electroshock before 2008, now we have more than 90 psychiatric institutions who dispense ECT).

The regulations and logics that manage these psychiatric prisons (forensic institutions) (in Italian OPG-Ospedale Psichiatrico Giudiziario), are the same inherited by the fascist Rocco Code (1934). 40 % of the 1500 actual convicted should already have been released, for detention terms expired, but they see their penalty end terms deferred in order of their supposed social dangerousness.

Nine people each cell, dirty bathrooms and bed sheets; dirty nurses’ gowns as well. In Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto (Messina), 329 convicted are overcrowded in cells built in 1914. Dirt everywhere. One patient was found naked, tied up to his bed, with a haematoma on his head. Aversa, built in 1898. 320 people locked up six by cell, in inhuman conditions.

NAS (Antisofistication and health nucleus of Carabinieri (Police)) reported and denounced all this to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, but this office is often made by the same persons that sentence patients to life.

In the Secondigliano OPG, the psychiatric prison is interior to the jail. Here stays since 25 years a patient who was sentenced two years. Burns and black eyes are not reported on the clinical diary. Feet and hands go gangrenous.

In Montelupo Fiorentino OPG they are 170 in a very scruffy building. In Reggio Emilia OPG they are 274 where they should be 132. 3 showers serve 158 patients. One is tied up to his bed since 5 days for disciplinary reasons. 3 in 9 meters square. “The OPG (psychiatric prison) are one of the “silence zones”, explains Alberto, of the Pisa Antipsychiatric Collective dedicated to Antonin Artaud, “and they show the political use of psychiatry. The consume of psychiatric drugs is more and more pushed, the electroshock comes back “in fashion”, perhaps to “heal post partum depression”. And a law lies in ambush in order to bring the forced hospitalization terms from 7 to 30 days”. After the scandal came to light, on 17 January 2012 the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the definitive closure of the OPG by 31 March 2013. The closure was extended until March 31, 2015. After the closure of the facilities in 2015, according to Law Decree n. 211/2011, converted into Law no. 9/2012, have been replaced by residences for Execution of Security Measures (R.E.M.S.). We have to closedown the Forensic Psychiatric Hospitals, instead of changing the name of them. If we don’t shut dawn these places once and for all, we cannot talk about de-institutionalization. Close them not in order to transfer their users to other psychiatric institutions, but to give these people a life dignity.

A research (source: British Medical Journal) conducted in 6 European countries (Italy, Spain, England, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany), that have closed asylums in the 70s, saw that between 1990 and 2003 an increase in the number of beds in forensic psychiatric hospitals, in psychiatric wards, in so-called safe houses. Supported housing is seen as an alternatives to asylums, as a sign of de-institutionalization, but they are rather a form of institutionalization. Also forced treatments are increasing. It is not clear the reason why the number of beds in Forensic Psychiatric Hospital increased, since there is no correlation between crimes like homicides and de-institutionalized persons.

It would be important to spread the awareness that forced treatments, like the restraint is an anti-therapeutic act, that makes cures more difficult, rather than to facilitate them. Physical restraint is not exercised only in the field of psychiatry. The areas of operation where should be discussed the problem of legitimacy, usefulness and appropriateness of physical restraint, do not consist only in hospitals, but also in nursing homes for the elderly, therapeutic communities for drug addicts and nursing homes for people with disabilities related to congenital or early acquired disabilities. An improvement in psychiatric nursing practice, characterized by the renunciation of physical restraint, would be a strong signal in order to spot out the problem also in other operating environments, urging those who work in this field to act with similar treatment practices, rather than restrictive ones.

Referring to the psychiatric drugs there are rules of the Convention on Human Rights, which require user’s fully informed consent, before administering, even if he’s disabled. Most psychiatric drugs are prescribed for a long time, sometimes for life, without informing the user on their effects, and without any help in the resolution of his real and existential problems. Psychiatric drugs can cause neurological diseases, that sometimes become irreversible. Akathisia, dyskinesia, are very unpleasant effects and can throw a person in despair. Often the user is encouraged to continue taking the drugs even when he asks to withdraw them, and it is almost impossible to find professionals who help and give directions for withdrawal. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist, working with institutions as WHO (World Health Organisation) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration), wrote hundreds of pages on the harmful effects of psychiatric drugs. Peter Lehmann, who tested the effects of drugs on himself during his hospitalization in a psychiatric clinic, has published and continues to publish the results of his research for which he uses pharmaceutical and medical literature. The effect of psychiatric drugs is known, but the billion-dollar business behind it is too big to lose it. Peter Lehmann is the first survivor of psychiatry to be awarded with the honorary degree, conferred him by the clinical psychology faculty of the Aristotele’s University of Thessaloniki, for his work as researcher and activist in the field of mental health.

A person who starts to take drugs, in most cases will be induced to take them for life, because they create addiction problems. The psychiatric user develops a very strong dependence toward the psychiatric service too. For the psychiatrists, lack of compliance is in fact intended in it self an aggravation of the disease. Then the conditioning that takes place, goes in the direction of dependence from psychiatric services, of becoming “childish” and “chronic patient”.

Although in almost all European countries asylums and psychiatric hospitals have been eliminated or substantially reduced, this does not mean that in the new post-asylum structures, asylum-dispositifs have been eliminated. People are, with few exceptions, completely sedated by psychiatric drugs, even though apparently there are implemented programs such as art therapy. The intake of psychiatric drugs is induced also in order to make the user unconscious.

Erwin Redig, a German psychiatric survivor, says: “There are people putting us under pressure to force us to take them (psychiatric drugs). If we do not take them, our changes embarrass them. If this is our case, we must make clear to ourselves that we are swallowing drugs for other people’s welfare, because they find us unpleasant if we do not”.

“The dispositif of discomfort-complex, that operates in a small residence, acts more broadly in the society”. Neuroleptic drugs affect thinking, block the flow of thoughts, and make people flatten. I relate the words of a healthcare professional: “As soon as psychiatric drugs are given to people, they literally get extinguished. To what extend is it fair to cancel the person?” Although in the European countries, the asylum psychiatry and the psychiatric hospitalization of users have given way to communities, the psychiatric institution culture has not changed. The patterns of asylum residentiality are still active. But most of all it is still alive an asylum mentality, therefore it is important for everyone to be aware how much everybody’s mentality is crucial in creating or not creating devices that belong to psychiatric institutions; operating devices that constitute a widespread operating module. “Residential Intermediate Structures”, foreseen in Italy by the 1983 law, should have had the provisional nature as their specificity; therefore they should not constitute either a definite admission or a final place for forced hospitalization; they should have been  transitional housing, that could break prejudice and exclusion logics. In March 1999, by a special decree, to the Italian Regions was imposed the definitive closure of the asylums, under threat of strong economic sanctions, because despite the birth, on paper, of the new “local services”, mental hospitals were still crowded with patients.

Named by the derogatory title of “asylum residuals”, for these people that nobody wanted, residential structures accounted for an illusion of freedom; they founded themselves to be again in a mental institution. “Many patients”, writes one of them in an autobiography, “have never been so well in terms of comfort, but nevertheless they are in a state of fearful desolation”.

An induced need of security, the defence from a potentially dangerous mind sick person that at any time, during an outbreak, could commit heinous actions against others or against himself; shortly, on the basis of this need and of this false scientific fundamentals, we build the myth of the need of post-asylums psychiatric institutions. If we don’t get reed of the psychiatric prejudice, the “mental health” institution remains. There are many alternatives pursued by individuals, associations or institutions, but they are deliberately ignored. The responsibility for solving the problems of institutionalization, is not up only to psychiatrists or to mental health professionals, but to the whole civil society. Everybody contributes to the asylum mentality. Users as well, who have internalized the psychiatric diagnosis and can no longer live without it.

Mary Nettle, chairman of Enusp until 2010, expects an increasing involvement of users and survivors of psychiatry in researches about psychiatry; while they often are excluded or not paid on the pretext that they are not professionals.

Although many examples exist that  prove that you can accompany a person in troubles out of his problems, through dialogue and support in the resolution of the objective and material difficulties, and helping him to get awareness of his own rights, these experiments and their positive results continue to be deliberately ignored.


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].

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

Sarah Knutson: Rethinking Public Safety – The Case for 100% Voluntary

(originally appeared on Mad in America website)

(now available in Italian translation on il cappellaio matto website)

Not long after posting this Principle from the 10th Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression, the following comments appeared on my Facebook page:

“It would have to be replaced with something else, we need to have strong supports we need to take care of each other.”

“Hey you radicals mental illness is a physical illness that requires the attention of a specially trained medical doctor if don’t like the treatment leave for a dessert[sic] island where you can suffer without disturbing others”

CRPDThese are understandably difficult issues.  Historically, there has been a lot of difference of opinion and genuine debate. In 2006, the United Nations weighed in.  They approved the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  The CRPD prohibits involuntary detention and forced interventions based on psychosocial disability.  These are considered acts of discrimination that violate the right to equal protection under the law.  Under the CRPD, people with psychosocial disabilities have the same rights to liberty, autonomy, dignity, informed consent, self-determination and security of the individual and property as everyone else.

Shortly thereafter, forced ‘treatment’ was also held to violate the Convention Against Torture:

States should impose an absolute ban on all forced and non-consensual medical interventions against persons with disabilities, including the non-consensual administration of psychosurgery, electroshock and mind-altering drugs, for both long- and short- term application. The obligation to end forced psychiatric interventions based on grounds of disability is of immediate application and scarce financial resources cannot justify postponement of its implementation.

Forced treatment and commitment should be replaced by services in the community that meet needs expressed by persons with disabilities and respect the autonomy, choices, dignity and privacy of the person concerned. States must revise the legal provisions that allow detention on mental health grounds or in mental health facilities and any coercive interventions or treatments in the mental health setting without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.

Many of us hoped that would be the end of it: No forced treatment, clear and simple.  Nevertheless, the debate goes on.  It seemingly has sped up – rather than let up – over the past several years.  Clearly, many of us are sincerely struggling with these issues.  There are people of conscience on all sides.


The Case for 100% Voluntary

For the past ten years, the international community has been progressively moving away from involuntary interventions. This essay is the first in a multi-part series.  It highlights important reasons why the rest of us should follow suit. They are as follows:

1.     These issues are universal, not medical

Life, by nature, is difficult and risky.  Our primary certainties are death, loss, and vulnerability. Pain, suffering, sickness and need are pretty much a given.

The idea is to minimize risk as much as possible, but still keep the essential spontaneity of feeling alive.  This a highly personal undertaking. One is never certain what this means for someone else.

That being said, communities can and should offer support to all who want it. At certain times, any of us might want help to balance: (1) factors that concern others, (2) feasible (medical, natural and community) alternatives; (3) risks and benefits; and (4) personal values and lifestyle considerations. The onus, however, is on would-be supporters to earn and maintain our trust. This is the approach adopted by the United Nations in the CRPD. (Art. 12).

2.     Clinicians are lousy predictors

It’s hard to know in advance who is a ‘danger.’  Clinicians are notoriously poor in predicting suicide or violence.  In individual cases, they barely do better than the toss of a coin.

Equally disturbing, the people they will lock up have not been accused of a crime, much less convicted.  Yet, on flimsy odds, innocent people lose jobs, businesses, careers, homes, custody of kids, and much more.

And that’s not the half of it.  Typically, to lose freedom in society, twelve jurors who have been carefully screened for bias must unanimously agree that someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the mental health system, a single clinician with little to lose and a lot to gain makes the call.  By far the safest course is erring on the side of lock up. Guessing wrong means serious harm, distraught families, internal reviews, bad press, lawsuits, potential job or income loss.  Sleepless nights and calls at home should not be overlooked.

3.     Drugs, at best, are problematic

Contrary to popular belief, the choice to refuse drugs is rational.  Even if you meet diagnostic criteria, there are many good reasons to ‘just say no.’ This not just for individuals and families, but for insurers and governments as well.

During the past several decades of increasing drug use, disability rates have sky-rocketed.  Long-term outcomes and relapse rates have worsened overall. Particularly disturbing is the fact that third world countries (where people are too poor to afford the drugs) get dramatically better results.

Even as a first-line of defense in emergency settings, there are serious concerns.  In simple fact, drugs are not harm neutral.  Known effects include death, psychosis, rage, despair, agitation, shaking, vomiting, impulsivity, tics, uncontrollable movements, memory loss, skin crawling, insatiable hunger, rapid weight gain, dulled awareness, impotence, insomnia, hypersomnia, fatigue, mood swings, and the list goes on. Many of us have experienced the drugs creating urges to violence or suicide we never had before.  Some of us have acted this out.

The long-term considerations are equally alarming.  Susceptibility to relapse, loss of brain matter, obesity, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and permanent disability increase as a function of exposure.  Due at least in part to drug effects, the ‘mentally ill’ lose 15-25 years (on average!) of our natural lifespan.

For many people, the health risks of drugs aren’t even the half of it. A lot of what you like depends upon your values. Preferences and comfort differ for, e.g.: relying on drugs vs. learning self-mastery, following rules vs. asking questions, respect for experts vs. internal wisdom, managing feelings vs. experiencing feelings, medical vs. natural approaches, and seeing the source of healing as science vs. human or spiritual connection.

When it comes to drugs, one nutter’s meds are anutter’s poison.

4.     Promising alternatives are not being considered

Many do better with non-medical approaches (or might if these were offered).  Fortunately, the options are legion. (See end notes.) Unfortunately, the alternatives are not well-known by clinicians, politicians or the general public.  They therefore not widely offered or available, and are not considered to be worthy of clinical trials.

This is not ‘the other guy’s problem.’  Vast numbers of us are potentially affected.  One in four crosses paths with the mental health system. (3) One in three currently takes a psychoactive drug. (4) And that hardly scratches the tip of the iceberg of all who are struggling.

What separates ‘the worried well’ from the ‘social menace’?  I’d like to think it was more than my natural affinity for the only approach the doctor on call was taught to offer.

5.     Natural diversity is not a pathology

Human experience cuts deep and scatters wide.  Statistically speaking, there are many shared traits, values, and approaches to life. But outliers are a fact as well.

Our variability is to be expected.  Diversity, not conformity, is the real ‘normal.’ It contributes to the robustness, resourcefulness, and creativity of our species.  While it may not get you dates or jobs in a self-promoting, efficiency-driven, corporate-run economy, it is not a disorder.

To the contrary, it is far more like a subculture than an ‘illness.’ In actuality, scores of us value our internal experience, being true to ourselves and treating others generously.  If we speak truth to power and get fired, this is not just impulsivity, mania or disorder.  It’s having the courage of our convictions. We want a world that’s more than just self-promotion, might is right, and going along to get along.  It’s a beautiful vision.  Many of us are dying (including by suicide) for the want of it.  Far from being a social menace, in the 1960’s, Dr. King argued that such ‘creative maladjustment’ is essential in our quest for a socially just, equitable world.

6.     This is about trauma, not disordered brains

Trauma’ is pervasive and potentially causal. Ninety (90!) percent of the public mental health system are ‘trauma’ survivors.  In effect, vast numbers of vulnerable citizens are growing up without a way to meet fundamental human needs. Things like:

  • reliable access to food and habitable shelter
  • safety of person and property
  • dignity, respect and fair treatment
  • meaningful participation and voice
  • the means to make a living and obtain basic life necessities
  • relational, educational, vocational and cultural opportunities for development
  • support to share and make sense of experience in our way

If the aim is to create a safer world, trauma is a much more pressing problem to fix than ‘chemical imbalances’.  There are numerous reasons for this.  We have not even begun to scratch the surface of the implications of a truly trauma-informed system of care.  As the next essay in this series will address.

7.     Do the math – it adds up to ‘voluntary.’

The primary mechanisms for a safer world are already in place.  We already have a criminal justice system with the capacity for detention, probation, in-home monitoring, geographic restriction, behavioral health treatment, drug testing, ‘no contact’ orders, restorative justice, etc.  We already have civil restraining orders, lawsuits, and mediation.  The essential task is to update these protections – and make them meaningfully available – to address modern needs.

The money we save by making things voluntary (police, hospitals, courts, lawyers, lawsuits, staff/ patient injuries, security, insurance, staffing needs, drugs) will go a long way to making this possible.  We could fund numerous thoughtful, responsive, social justice informed alternatives.

We could invest in a truly trauma-informed criminal justice system, rather than dumping that burden on hospitals and their employees. The change in morale itself is worth the price of admission.  Imagine no locked doors and everyone wants to be there. Violence happens, you call the police. Just like everywhere else.

8.     The continued prejudice against people with psychosocial disabilities is not worthy of a free society.

There’s a saying in twelve-step rooms: Every time you point a finger, there’s three pointing back at you.  Suffice it to say, majority fears and prejudice must stop ruling the day. That is discrimination – and it begets discrimination.

In actuality, people from all walks of life have presented a grave risk of injury to self or others at one time or another in their lives: Wall Street brokers, weapons manufacturers, new parents, drinkers, children, teens, Frat houses, Nyquil users, pot smokers, crack addicts, bungee jumpers, martial artists, car racers, dirt bikers, inline skaters, snake handlers, fire builders, gymnasts, boxers, weight lifters, ragers, ex-cons, insomniacs, equestrians, skiers, diabetics who eat sugar, cardiac patients who drive…  There is no end to the list. Some people (trapeze artists, law enforcement, fire departments, magicians, military, security guards, skydivers, operators of heavy machinery) even make a living from this.

There is no principled way of distinguishing the predisposition to such risks from any other kind of psychosocial diversity.  If you needed any better proof of this, the diagnostic criteria for so-called ‘mental disorders’ are so useless that CMS threw them out in 2013 and told the APA to start over.

In any place but a psychiatric exam room, those seen as a cause for alarm would have the following rights: due process, equal protection, liberty, privacy, security of person and property, free speech, freedom of association, freedom to travel, right to contract, written charges, trial by jury, Miranda, and compensation for unjust takings.  You need these protections more, not less when you’ve committed no crime and are simply having the worst day of your life.

In a society worthy of calling itself ‘free,’ public safety would mean all of us. It would go without saying that service recipients are ‘the public’ just as much as anyone else. We would look at fear and prejudice as the real social menace.  People who use mental health services would not need protection from people like you

So please.  Stop locking us up ‘for our own good’ and calling it a favor.  This only distracts from the real question:  If the crisis services are so great, then why isn’t everyone using them? 

Here’s a litmus test. Think about your last life crisis. Did you use these services? Did they feel like a useful, viable option for you?

Before you say, “No but I’m not [crazy, poor, uninsured…],” stop yourself. Try this instead, “No, but I’m not human.

It has a different ring to it, doesn’t it?


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.


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Sarah Knutson is an ex-lawyer, ex-therapist, survivor-activist.  She is an organizer at the Wellness & Recovery Human Rights Campaign. You can reach her at the Virtual Drop-In Respite, an all-volunteer, peer-run online community that aspires to feel like human family and advance human rights.