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Children vs adults

October 21, 2009

I have been covering institutions for people with mental disabilities and psychiatric problems in Bulgaria since 2002. And every time it’s the same thing.


If the institution is for children, most people are interested, horrified, scandalised, wanting to do something about the conditions these children are living in. And that’s great. 

If the institution is for adults though, a lot of people are not as interested, not quite so horrified, and not as scandalized. Many don’t think there is anything you can and should do, really, for these people. Improve living conditions – sure. But deinstitutionalisation? “Society is not ready for that”, you will often hear. But not so often as “you know, they might be dangerous”…  

Society needs reminding that, generally speaking, these are the same people we are talking about. Children with mental disabilities in institutions, if they are lucky enough to turn 18, are moved to adult institutions.  

The same people. The same human rights abuses. 

And many keep forgetting that a great deal of people with mental health or intellectual disabilities do live outside institutions. Thus, in this aspect, society ‘is ready’ for deinstitutionalisation. The thing that is not ready is a network of community-based alternatives.  

The care-home for women with mental illnesses, Svilengrad, Bulgaria. Annie, 27, arranges her “family”. All dolls have a function – some are her grandparents, some are her parents, one is her sister, and one – her baby. Annie never had a family. She has never lived outside an institution. Institutionalised children grow up to become institutionalised adults.

The care-home for women with mental illnesses, Svilengrad, Bulgaria. Annie, 27, arranges her “family”. All dolls have a function – some are her grandparents, some are her parents, one is her sister, and one – her baby. Annie never had a family. She has never lived outside an institution. Institutionalised children grow up to become institutionalised adults.

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