Reyna (left) and Cesar, who have physical disabilities, each said they survived violence by their family members. They live together in Monterrey, Nuevo León state. © 2019 Libertad Hernández ©

Activists and disability groups recently scored a key victory in Mexico: A regressive draft mental health bill was put on hold before reaching the Senate for a vote.

The bill was based on a coercive approach to treatment of people with psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) and people considered drug dependent, creating broad and poorly defined exceptions to the right to informed consent. It would have allowed families, with the authorization of a medical expert, to force people with such conditions to accept medical treatment or be hospitalized, and to force kids with so-called “mental health and behavioral disorders” to be institutionalized.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch documented how Mexico has done little to prevent discrimination, stigma, and abuses against people with disabilities, including those with mental health conditions. Adopting the proposed Mental Health Bill would have compounded the problem.

For weeks, Mental Health with Human Rights, a coalition that includes Human Rights Watch and numerous organizations for people with disabilities in Mexico, advocated against the bill. We met with Mexican senators and parliamentary groups, highlighting the legislation’s shortcomings and the importance of ensuring the right to mental health and informed consent for everyone in Mexico, and how that can be achieved without resorting to coercive treatment.

After advocacy meetings and a media campaign shedding light on the issue, Mexico’s senate responded to the coalition’s call and removed the proposed bill from their agenda. It recognized that senators needed to further analyze the issue and agreed to open a consultation process with disability rights organizations to reform Mexico’s mental health legislation.

The senate’s decision to open a consultation process is a positive step. What is needed now is a proper framework to ensure it is a truly participatory and inclusive experience for people with disabilities – who, along with people who use drugs, are among those potentially most affected by the mental health legislation.

Human Rights Watch has long advocated for a human rights-based model of disability, in Mexico and elsewhere. In 2017, we successfully campaigned against a similar mental health bill in Mexico.

People with disabilities have the right to full legal capacity and to decide about their own health. Human Rights Watch will keep working to make sure any adopted mental health policies prioritize both a community-based model that always acknowledges people’s right to choose which treatment, if any, they want to take, as well as actions to prevent discrimination and stigma against people with disabilities.