Personal accounts of human rights violations

Denied citizens


"Among the professionals who dealt with my son's psychological illness, I frequently encountered irritation and threats aimed at him ('if you don't shape up' or 'I'm really having a problem with you today'), as if his psychological problems were subject to his direct control. In the 15 months of cancer treatment that my son also received, I never heard a nurse or doctor express any anger or irritation with my son for the symptoms of his illness."

-- Dr Myrna M. Weissman describes the treatment her son received as a mental health patient and as a cancer patient

Source: Weissman MM. A piece of my mind: stigma. JAMA, 2001, 285(3): 261-2.


"I experienced homelessness at one stage coming out of the hospital. I had nowhere to go. I had no choice. My family at that point was struggling with their own view of my condition and there was no place in the family for me. If my family had been educated, taught how to help me, supported and helped, then my story would be very different.

-- Woman with schizophrenia, 43 years old, New Zealand

Source: Stop exclusion – Dare to care. World Health Day brochure. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2001.


"I was now a resident or rather an inmate of the hospital. I saw no one except the other people on the floor who wore identical striped hospital robes and plastic bracelets with identifying names. Just as the bracelet was a closed stiff bracelet, the door was a locked door which I could not open. The mental health workers were the only ones who could open the locked door. I left my hope on the other side of the locked door."

"It was a frightening experience. There was an air of unreality there. The people didn't look like anyone I had ever seen before. They seemed stiff like me and there was a pall over the whole place."

Source: World Health Day, 2001, Testimonial

Appalling living conditions

"The conditions there are miserable. As soon as I entered there I was overwhelmed by a nightmarish atmosphere: dirty patients; dishevelled and very skinny [patients] surrounded me asking me for some bread. As for the building, it is pitiful to look at: many broken glasses, walls without painting for many years and, worse, not even one bed per patient, hence the need to sleep on mattresses placed directly on the floor.…The toilets, totally out of order, without running water. Most of the time cooking is done with water caught from the rain. The worst was, and remains, the problem of food. For one year now, I go every week.…only to see on the plates of the inmates pig's feet or heads…."

"Through several conversations and letters I tried to improve the lives of those poor inmates, whose lives have already been stricken enough by their destiny and do not need to made worse by other men… (S)omeone has even answered me: "Why are you fighting that much? This place is but the waste of society."

-- Letter to WHO from a concerned mother about the conditions in the 'sanatorium' to which her son was admitted

Source: Letter 78, original in French. Voices from the shadows: a selection of letters addressed to the World Health Organization 1994 – 2002. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2004.


Three girls of 12-13 years of age were found to be locked in a very small cold barren room on this cold winter day and they were naked. The reason for locking them was that they had tried to escape from the institution. The institution director told the parliamentarians that girls were there for a few hours but it was found out that they had been there for the last 12 hours. One of the girls had diabetes.

Source: A report by Mental Disability Rights International. September 20, 2005.

A patient detained in one of the seclusion rooms appeared over-drugged, his eyelids heavy and drool dripping from his mouth. He was banging a plastic cup against the seclusion room door and pleading, almost incoherently, for water. Investigators informed staff at the nursing station a few feet away, and within sight, that the individual in detention wanted water. Staff responded that they would get to it, and continued talking among themselves.

Source: A report by Mental Disability Rights International, September 2004.