Disturbing photos of abuse of mentally disabled patients in a Saudi centre

Screen grab from a photomontage showing the abuse of mentally handicapped people in a centre in Douasser.
The photos, taken in a centre for the mentally disabled in the city of Douasser, have been making the rounds online in Saudi Arabia. They reveal the degrading conditions in which some mentally handicapped people must live in the Saudi kingdom.
The video is entitled: “This is how our children are treated in the Douasser rehabilitation centre.”Douasser is a region in southern Saudi Arabia.
 Editor's note: faces of people in this video have been intentionally blurred.
The mission of the centre, which is public and free, is to care for mentally disabled patients. The first photo shows an adolescent tied to a railing. On another picture, a young man is tied to a bed with pieces of cloth. Yet others show naked patients waiting to take a group shower. Some patients can be seen eating off of the floor. The photomontage ends with a photo of a completely naked patient in what appears to be the centre’s courtyard.

“It reveals a complete lack of professionalism”

Madiha (not her real name) is a caretaker in France for people with mental and psychological disabilities. She travelled to Saudi Arabia to train staff in how to take care of mentally disabled people.
It is crucial to know the context of each photo in order to understand what was going on. For instance, sometimes the patients strip naked and we have to catch them to get them dressed again. But these photos reveal a complete lack of professionalism. First of all, I am shocked that these patients were photographed in such intimate, personal states. And some of these scenes are just unconscionable. One photo shows a patient tied to a railing with a staircase right behind him. And then there are photos of patients eating by themselves right off the ground. Sometimes patients do want to eat on the floor, but it’sprecisely the role of the staff to stay with them and get them to eat in the right position.
The video quickly went viral on social networks and caused such a backlash that, on Tuesday, the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs announced that it was launching an investigation.

“I hope that foreign caretakers are not held solely responsible for this”

Ghazi al-Massaari, a Douasser resident, is one of the first journalists to have investigated these photos. He fears that the caretakers, who are typically foreign staff without any qualifications, will be scapegoated.
Members of the investigatory committee visited the rehabilitation centre and audited the staff. I am of course pleased with the authorities’ quick reaction. That said, I hope that foreign caretakers are not held solely responsible for these abuses. The centre has many supervisory staff members that are in charge of overseeing and managing the work of the caretakers.
I do not know whether or not the centre’s managers or the regional Director of Social Affairs were aware of the abuse, but they must be held accountable.
In Saudi Arabia, rehabilitation centres for the mentally handicapped are often poorly run.
Media outlets frequently uncover stories of patient abuse. Last September already, a story revealing several cases of abuse in a centre in the Jizan region caused a stir in Saudi Arabia. Since then, the director of social affairs in the region was sacked. But it seems that no one learn their lesson.
When reached by FRANCE 24, Khaled Ben Dakhilallah Thbiti, a communications officer for the Ministry of Social Affairs, claimed that the investigation commissioned by his department audited the caretakers as well as the supervisory staff that manages them. He also explained that those employees found to have committed abuses would be fired and could also be sued.
Saudi Arabia has about forty centres for physically and mentally handicapped people, ranging in capacity from 150 to 1,500 patients. Last October, the government authorized the creation of private rehabilitation centres in order to overcome the lack of space in public centres.


The risks of a mental health diagnosis?

I think it is important for press freedom that articles like this are shown by the media if it wants to retain credibility, regardless of the preferences of the psychology profession.

My reaction to reading this is that it must have taken some courage to show: congratulations.

It goes against what is said again and again by the mental health profession: that there is no shame in going to one of them, that there is no stigma, that there will be no consequences....

This article rather contradicts that.

Press freedom and the psychology profession

I think this is important as the media has an obligation to tell the truth about abuse of individuals if it wants to retain credibility, and in this regard, it is refreshing to see such honesty, uncensored by the interests of the psychology profession.

It must have taken some courage to write. My reaction: congratulations.

It goes against what is said again and again: that going to a mental health professional will have no consequences, that there is no stigma, no shame and so on.

This article rather contradicts that.

The freedom to be informed

One thing I think is very important to appreciate is that there may be a real risk in going to a mental health professional, despite what is said again and again by mental health workers such as psychologists and counselors, of discrimination against the person. This contradicts what is repeatedly said by many and is very much a mantra: that there is no risk to going to a mental health professional, no stigma, that mental health is a subject for the community, that there is no shame, and on and on goes this theme.

Is this true? It would be interesting to find out others experiences of having gone to a mental health worker of any sort, and to see if this sort of thing has occurred to a lesser extent, elsewhere, and in other countries, too, such as western ones.

Freedom of the press is the freedom to say what is true, and in this respect I personally applaud whoever had the courage to show this story, as it must have involved some risk.

My view, anyway, is that the freedom to know about the risks of mental health situations is very important, as the public cannot know of potential risks if they are not informed about all potential situations, no matter how frightening they might be.

On discrimination and stigma

One thing that occurs to me is that it is important to appreciate that consequences can apply to having a diagnosis of mental illness perhaps, despite what is said again and again by mental health workers, such as psychologists, and counselors: that going to a mental health person is nothing to fear and will not result in discrimination.

Is this true, and do others have experiences where having gone to a psychologist or counselor or been diagnosed with a mental health condition has been used as an excuse to avoid help or to discriminate? If so, the public should equally be told of the possible risks of going to a mental health professional or having involvement with such individuals or the profession, if it can lead to situations like this.

This is my view, only, in saying this, but I think freedom of the press is also about freedom to tell the truth even if it does not fit what is said, and so my reaction to this article is that it is a brave attempt to show something that might have taken some courage to say.

The right to be informed of all risks is what is important, otherwise a person cannot make an informed decision.