Event calls for better care for people with mental disabilities

An event called Night of Dignity took place outside the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on Monday afternoon with the aim to draw attention to the poor system of care for people with mental disabilities. It was established in response to a horrific real-life story.

Dorota Šandorová, a 37-year-old woman with a severe mental disability, died on the night of January 6 three years ago. Her caregiver straddled her, brutally twisted her arms behind her back and pushed full force against her chest until she fell unconscious and suffocated. The court initially convicted the perpetrator of murder, then reclassified the act as negligent homicide.

The event called Night of Dignity, which is now in its second year, wants to commemorate Dorota Šandorová’s memory and to make sure that such a thing never happens again. It also wants to draw attention to the challenges faced by people with mental disabilities and those who care for them.

Petr Třešňák | Photo: Věra Luptáková,  Czech Radio

Petr Třešňák is the head of the organisation Children of the Full Moon, an association of parents and other family members of children with autistic spectrum disorder, which is one of the event’s co-organisers:

“We still have a very old-fashioned system of social services based on the big care institutions created in the Communist era. The situation of people with intellectual disabilities is that they are often forced to live in these very unsuitable institutions or to stay with their families, who are often exhausted by the long-term care which lasts until adulthood.”

Petr Třešňák says their ultimate goal is to transform Czechia’s system of care for people with mental disabilities, increasing the availability of services and allowing clients to live in a communal setting, rather than in institutions.

“Of course such as change cannot be done in one day, but we would like to close the big institutions and to create a network of community social services that would support these people in a community setting.”

The first edition of the Night of Dignity took place in January 2023, along with a campaign called Year of Dignity. While the government has since pledged to work on a national strategy, no major changes have taken place so far, says Mr. Třešňák:

“Of course there are some smaller changes, including greater public awareness of the topic. The government started to work on a national strategy of support for people with mental disabilities and behavioural challenges, which is very good. However, we still don't have a clear vision of how things should change and how the government plans to implement these changes.”

The Night of Dignity, which takes place under the patronage of the Public Defender of Human Rights, was also marked in other Czech towns and cities, including Brno, Ostrava, Olomouc and Rumburk.