by Anahit Papikyan
No one likes to be sick or go to the hospital, but sometimes it is unavoidable. Most people in Armenia are not familiar with the concept of “patient’s rights.” What they do know, however, is that when it comes to health care, everyone has the right to be treated in a safe environment, free of abuse, harassment, and neglect. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always extend to people living with intellectual disabilities or mental health problems.
Armenia ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1993 and adopted a mental health law that is in line with international norms. Nearly two decades later, however, we see that what the government agreed to is far different from what is actually happening in psychiatric hospitals throughout Armenia.
The Open Society Foundations–Armenia supported a group of human rights experts to visit and monitor conditions inside psychiatric hospitals. Their reports read like horror stories, detailing the lives of people left to the mercy of fate:
“A male nurse beat a patient who tried to run away. Even in the presence of the monitoring group he continued to abuse the patient.”
“One of the patients was tied up for two days. The hospital staff informed us that they gave food and water to the patient, but the monitors didn’t witness it.”
“Many patients are subjected to physical abuse, they are forced to clean the rooms and wash toilets, take care of other patients… do the work that the clinic staff should do.”
“In the yard of a hospital, under heavy rain, a barefoot patient washed the car of a hospital employee.”
Listening to these reports, we have to ask: Are medical professionals causing more trauma for their patients rather than providing actual treatment? Do hospital employees see people with mental health issues as problems and not as patients?
The government of Armenia should take measures to close these abusive institutions. People with mental health disabilities should receive care within their communities, not be locked away as though they are criminals. Community-based housing is an affordable alternative to large, abusive institutions. And people are able to live in freedom near their families.
Our government leaders in Armenia need to get serious about their commitments and fulfill the promises they have made.