votingDiscrimination against people with mental ill health is still widespread among United Nations (UN) countries, with bars to marriage, voting rights and employment existing in more than a third of those, a survey has revealed.

The survey of laws and policies in 193 UN member countries, funded by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) and released to coincide with World Mind Matters Day on September 5, found that 37% of countries prohibit marriage by people with mental health problems, and in 11%, mental problems can render a marriage void or can be considered grounds for annulling a marriage.

In addition, 36% of countries, do not allow people with mental health problems to vote, and nearly a quarter of countries have no laws preventing discrimination in the recruitment of people with mental health problems. In more than half of countries, there is no explicit protection in laws against dismissal/termination/suspension of employment on grounds of health reasons including mental health problems.

Also, 42% do not recognise the right of people with mental health problems to write their own will and testament.

The survey results were included in the ‘Social Justice for People with Mental Illness’ report, published in the International Review of Psychiatry.

The findings have led the WPA to create a Bill of Rights for Individuals with Mental Illness, which urges all governments to ensure that persons with mental illness/mental disability are not discriminated against based on their mental health status, and are treated as full citizens enjoying all rights on an equal basis with others. The Bill of Rights has been supported by 18 organisations. 

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

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

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

The ‘Social Justice for People with Mental Illness’ report and ‘Bill of Rights for Individuals with Mental Illness’ can be viewed here.