The CAMH started as an advocacy agency, and has since 1999 been involved in local, national and international advocacy for the rights of people living with psychosocial disabilities. Society does not believe that people living with mental illness have any rights, because they are perceived to lack ‘insight’ and be generally incapable of living a life of their own freedom and choice. The mental asylum continues to be the most prominent Icon of mental health care in the country, with many kinds of laws upholding the view that ‘mentally ill’ people are violent and dangerous, and should be put away. Biomedical treatment for ‘mental disease’ has obscured all other pathways to well being. Over the years, families continue to call us asking for the ‘most humane, ideal, loving and caring mental institution’ where they can keep their relative in the long term; and we try to convince the family that such an institution does not exist. All institutional systems use force in some form or other, and in the last decade, we have heard and seen the brutal violence of the mental health care system on people.
In CAMH, we have researched and published widely on the legal system and its disempowering impact of the court system on the lives of people accused of or diagnosed with a mental illness. We have gathered lived experiences on this disempowerment and mobilised users and survivors on the issue of their human rights. Over the years, we have learnt about our sameness with other people with disabilities, particularly those with mental, intellectual and multiple disabilities. We have also engaged many groups and constituencies on bringing more compassion and imagination into the mental health system; openness to the diversity of human experiences; a variety of skills and techniques for caring; and scientific information to bear on systems of human mind / body / and consciousness. We have learnt from and contributed to the world discourse on civil and political rights for people with psychosocial disabilities, particularly on non-discrimination, privacy, liberty, integrity, living in the community and legal capacity (as articulated in the UNCRPD).
What is there in all of this for you? What should you do in your local context? You could consider several pathways of action.
- We always know ‘someone like that’, who has a psychosocial disability: Befriend people with psychosocial disabilities, they may be looking for an empathetic ear or some other kinds of support.
- Stand up for their rights in your classrooms, your work places, your communities, networks and neighbourhoods.
- Believe in the strengths and capacities of people with disabilities: You may be surprised, how much you can learn. It is never a one way street with another human being.
- A person with a psychosocial disability requires all that any other human being needs: respect, privacy, dignity, liberty, freedoms, choices and a unique way of life.
- Respect human diversity and cultivate empathy and tolerance for diversity. “A person is a person, no matter how weird”.
- Contribute to the growth of conflict free families, communities and neighbourhoods.