A European Project on
Human Rights and Physical Health
of Residents in Psychiatric and Social Care Institutions
Funded by
the European Commission, DG Sanco
a project funded by the European Commission

The Problem

Across the world, thousands of individuals with mental illness are living in communities with fully integrated, effective and supportive treatment programs. However some people living in psychiatric institutions experience abuse and are subject to degrading and inhumane treatment which often occurs outside of public awareness.

ITHACA (Institutional Treatment, Human Rights and Care Assessment) is a project funded by the European Commission and organized by mental health professionals, lawyers, service users, researchers and social scientists. It aims to document the range of experiences of people with mental illness across Europe. Researchers involved in ITHACA will identify current processes and activities which lead to positive therapeutic experiences as well as identify areas for improvement. ITHACA will provide recommendations for institutions and governments and highlight abuses of those in institutionalised care.

This project comes shortly after the United Nations adoption of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD, adopted in December 2006). The convention signals a paradigm shift in the position of those living with physical and mental disabilities: persons with disabilities have guaranteed rights and are actors in this system, not passive recipients of social welfare and support.

European Policy Context.

In Europe only 55% of States have a national mental health policy, while mental health legislation has been enacted within 74% of countries in the European region in the last decade. In some countries mental health laws are at least 40 years old. In particular there are no effective policies across Europe to ensure that people with mental disorders are treated with equality in terms of physical health care. Specifically the ITHACA project supports the Green Paper - Improving the mental health of the population. Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union (COM(2005) 484 final of 14 October 2005).

Observation of basic human rights and dignity.

People with mental disabilities, especially those in institutions, may be subject to a number of violations of their human rights, for example being deprived of 'legal capacity'. People with intellectual disabilities or dependency face similar prejudice, see 'Bartlett Peter, Lewis 0liver, Thorold 0liver (2006) Mental Disability and the European Convention on Human Rights. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden'.

Need for Progress

In relation to human rights and dignity it is clear that progress is needed in rights to: education, property, marry, to found a family, and to respect family life, voting, associate with others, work, advocacy, and to access legal representation

In relation to general health status there is a need for progress with: identification of good practice for health promotion and illness prevention, including assessment of risk factors, screening and diagnosis of disorders, and for access to care.

By carrying out the ITHACA project we try to contribute to the obvious need for action in this field, according to the motto of the World Health Organisation: 'close the gap, dare to care', as stated in the Mental Health Global Action Programme of the World Health Organisation in 2002.