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Mental Health - a new frontier for human rights protection?

Speakers: Professor Peter Bartlett, Professor Jill Peay, Professor Nikolas Rose (chair) Dr George Szmukler
Thursday 8 March 2007

Abstract

The test of a human rights culture is how it esteems those on the margins of society. The rights of those whose lives are severely affected by mental health problems should therefore be a central concern. But both in Britain and Europe, as well as further afield, there is evidence of serious disregard of their entitlements. In Britain, there are new moves greatly to expand the scope of compulsion in ways which threaten the liberty of those who receive psychiatric treatment. In central and eastern European countries, some of them newly in the EU and all of them members of the Council of Europe, the scandal of the hospitalisation of the mentally unwell in horrific conditions remains to be properly tackled. And yet these are places that now boast of their commitment to human rights and respect for the dignity of each and every individual. How can there be such a mismatch between rhetoric and reality? Is there something about problems of mental health that evoke particular fears in those who consider themselves mentally well? Can the language of human rights be used to improve the situation of those who require psychiatric treatment for mental health problems?

Peter Bartlett is Professor of Mental Health Law at the University of Nottingham.

Jill Peay is Professor of Law at LSE and Associate Tenant of Doughty Street Chambers.

George Szmukler is Dean of the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and a consultant psychiatrist.

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