Stigma on the Basis of Psychosocial Disability: A structural human rights violation

(June 2016)

Mahomed, F. South African Journal on Human Rights, 32:3, 490-509.

Despite numerous advancements in disability discourse, the experiences of persons with psychosocial disabilities have been shown to be characterised by marginalisation, victimisation and violations of numerous human rights. In this paper, I explore the problem of stigma on the basis of psychosocial disability as a central underlying factor that contributes to numerous forms of neglect and under-prioritisation. Using recent theoretical frameworks, I begin by examining the manner in which stigma is conceptualised, at individual and societal levels. I then consider the manner in which stigma – which is clearly a violation of the right to dignity and equality – also contributes to the violation of numerous related rights, including the right to health; the right to education; the right to freedom and security of the person; the right to vote; and the right to work. In doing so, I aim to demonstrate the myriad intersecting forms of marginalisation faced by persons with psychosocial disabilities in South Africa, and pay attention to some of the potential avenues through which stigma can be addressed and its associated human rights violations alleviated. I argue that the lack of implementation in respect of South Africa’s National Mental Health Policy Framework as well as the under-prioritisation of mental health as a public concern, themselves, indicate the stigmatisation of psychosocial disability. I suggest that addressing stigma requires attention to the causes of its manifestation, taking into consideration the problems of ignorance, prejudice and discrimination simultaneously. Similarly, however, I contend that a fourth problem, namely, the structures which render stigma possible, must also be taken into account if ‘structural violence’ is to be addressed. Read more