Pathways to rights: Deaf-led Belfast Statement on Mental Health and Deafness

The Belfast Statement on Mental Health and Deafness ( “Statement” )  is an outcome of the 6th World Congress hosted in Belfast in 2014. The Congress was organised by the ESMHD, in collaboration with the Royal College of Psychiatrists ( NI ) and Queen’s  University Belfast. The theme of the Congress was Pathway to Rights.

The Statement sets out the right to effective communication access in mental health settings for Deaf, late deafened, hard of hearing and Deafblind people of all ages. This right is enshrined in key international declarations such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Statement was drawn up in close consultation with Deaf people and it reflects their first hand knowledge of the issues they face in mental health provision. In particular Michael Schwartz, an eminent lawyer from the United States, who is himself Deaf, oversaw the final draft.

The Statement has an impressive list of endorsements, including the World Federation of the Deaf ( WFD ), ESMHD, the British Deaf Association ( BDA ) and Sense / Sense International.

Dr Liisa Kauppinnen, WFD Hon President and the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Awardee, presented the first draft of the Statement at the World Congress.

She encouraged the Statement to be released and distributed to stakeholders concerned about mental health. This included the World Health Organisation ( WHO ), governments, non-governmental organisations, national mental health providers, as well as families of those who are Deaf, late deafened, hard of hearing and Deafblind persons who have mental health issues. In her view, the Statement contains what is the basis of Deaf identity: need for respect of sign language and Deaf culture from the beginning. She said that it is the responsibility of governments to promote access to services in sign languages and they should be reminded of their duties regularly.

The Belfast Statement sets out rights that are enshrined in key declarations and it is recommended to anyone involved in policy making and mental health provision. It was Liisa Kauppinnen who said, “I want to live in a world where mental health services and information are provided in sign language so as to make them accessible to the Deaf community.”