Human rights highlighted for Mental Health Day

Cayman’s Human Rights Commission has released a booklet describing how human rights can apply to situations involving mental illness.

The booklet, intended for people like police and nurses who are often on the front lines of individuals dealing with mental health crises, gives case studies from the European Court of Human Rights as guidelines for how to handle specific situations.

Commemorating Monday’s World Mental Health Day, the Human Rights Commission highlighted eight human rights that are most relevant to people with mental health issues, including the rights to personal liberty, to fair trial, and to not be discriminated against.

In a press statement, Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith said, “The Commission welcomes the opportunity to assist the [Mental Health Commission] in their endeavours to strengthen human rights education for mental health professionals.”

He added, “Cayman is not immune to mental health concerns and those who suffer from mental health difficulties and their families should be afforded access to the same rights as other individuals.”

A report from the World Health Organization last year found that about 4,000 people in Cayman sought treatment for mental disorders in 2013.

Almost three-quarters of those people, the HRC statement notes, “were diagnosed with schizophrenia, mood [affective] disorders, or neurotic/stress related disorders.”

The HRC writes, “As these numbers only reflect those people who have sought treatment, there are likely to be many more in our community who are suffering in silence. Given the severe difficulties faced by those trying to deal with mental health issues without professional support, this is a cause for real concern.”

Among the other concerns listed in the report is the lack of human rights training for people in the healthcare sector dealing with people who have mental illnesses.

Deborah Bodden, head of the Commissions Secretariat, said, “This is [for] people like police officers, doctors and nurses in the ER and court staff who come in contact with people with mental illness, but are not necessarily mental health professionals.”

She said the HRC published 50 copies of the booklet and released PDF and e-reader versions on its website.

The case studies look at issues that went before the European Court of Human Rights, the highest court for any human rights issues in the Cayman Islands.

One case looks at a man in the U.K. who was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his aunt. There was no space available in a mental hospital for several days, so police kept him in a cell at the station without treatment for 75 hours, during which time he refused food, stripped naked, and drank water from the toilet in the cell. He was later diagnosed with a manic episode. The court found that the police’s conduct constituted torture and violated the man’s human rights.

The seven other case studies in the booklet look at similar legal situations that affected people with mental illness.