Hundreds of thousands with mental health conditions are being shackled across the world, report finds

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children with mental health conditions are being shackled or locked in confined spaces in countries all across the world, a new report from Human Rights Watch has found.

This “brutal practice”, which occurs in about 60 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, can leave individuals with mental health conditions – some as young as 10 – bound in chains and rope or locked in confined spaces for years in some cases. 

The report, titled ‘Living in Chains: Shackling of People with Psychosocial Disabilities Worldwide’, reveals how people with conditions such as depression, bipolar and schizophrenia are often shackled by families in their own homes or in overcrowded and unsanitary institutions against their will.

Highlighting the under-funding of mental health services across the world alongside the stigma that many with a mental illness face, the report found that many are forced to eat, sleep, urinate, and defecate in the same tiny area, as well as being forced to fast and take herbal concoctions in both state-run or private institutions and religious healing centres. 

About 80 per cent of people with disabilities, including mental health conditions, live in middle or low income countries, where mental health provision is often poor and difficult to access. Further still, existing mental health services are often under-utilized or do not comply with international human rights standards because of limited understanding and awareness of mental health, according to Human Rights Watch. 

The report also found that people with mental health problems face physical and sexual violence. In some of the institutions visited by Human Rights Watch researchers they found that male staff would “enter and exit women’s wards or sections at will”.