Mexico City has introduced a new law that seeks to protect mental health patients. The law, issued in December 2010, will promote the rights of mental patients. The decision by the local city government came just weeks after Disability Rights International released a scathing report on mental health in Mexico which documented abuses against adult patients and the disappearance of children.
The new report uncovered many of the same problems investigators found in institutions 10 years ago. In this study investigators visited public psychiatric institutions around the country, which serve thousands of people and found practices such as abandonment, lobotomies, poorly trained staff, and other abuses.
The New York Times ran a front page story on this investigation. However, few Mexican journalists took notice of the scandal, proving that mental health is little understood in the country. In a 2004 analysis by the Oxaca Mental Health Association, it was noted that two major newspapers, La Jornada and Reforma, only dedicated a few stories to mental health, and those that they reported dealt only with suicide and marital problems, but little with serious health issues.
Dr Carlos Campillo Serrano, the director of psychiatric care for Mexico’s Health Ministry, told the New York Times that he hoped that the report would help generate momentum to improve conditions. “We are attentive to its recommendations,” he said. The budget for mental health has increased to about 2.2 per cent of all health spending, from 1.5 per cent in 2006. According to one study, 9 per cent of the adult population in Mexico between 18 and 65 years old suffer mental problems.
The new legal framework being discussed by the Mexico City government seeks to establish a better treatment for mental patients in Mexico City. It was enacted with assistance and collaboration of nine civic and human rights organisations, including the Centro Nacional de Comunicacion Social, CENCOS, a leading human rights and press freedom organisation.
According to the law, there will be training for high school students on mental health problems, a move to ensure private health plans cover treatment and a public campaign to try to change certain attitudes towards people affected by mental illness
The new law will also protect the rights of patients who are interned in institutions against their will because of advanced mental health problems.
Along with 94 other nations, Mexico ratified the 2006 agreement it is now accused of violating, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities .
Mexico’s first report on its progress toward abiding by the agreement is due this year.
The World Health Organisation estimates that nearly 95 million people with depression and more than 25 million people with epilepsy, living in developing countries do not receive any treatment or care.
However, as the Oaxaca health study cited above said, little will change in assumptions about mental health if the national Mexican news media does not report on it.