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BLOG: ‘Mental health is a universal human right’

World Mental Health Day is about raising awareness of mental health and driving positive change.  It’s also a chance to talk about mental health, how we need to look after it, and how important it is to get help if you are struggling. The theme for 2023 is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’ and addressing how far we have come in making this a reality.

Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our ability to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Yet sometimes it’s hard to identify or explain because it’s invisible, making it less tangible for some to process. Despite overwhelming evidence that there cannot be health without mental health, nowhere in the world does mental health enjoy parity with physical health in terms of budgeting, or medical education and practice.

How is our mental health seen as a human right?  Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death.  It goes without saying that mental health should be a basic human right for all people. Everyone, whoever and wherever they are, has a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health. This includes the right to be protected from mental health risks, the right to available, accessible, acceptable, and good quality care, and inclusion in the community. Yet in a recent report the World Health Organisation reports only seven percent of global health budgets are allocated to address mental health.

“Why is so little attention given to mental health care when one in four people will be affected by a
mental health condition throughout their lifetime?”

Joe Stroud, End Stigma Surrey

As human beings, our health, and the health of those we care about is a matter of daily concern. Regardless of our age, gender, socio-economic or ethnic background, we consider our health to be our most basic and essential asset.

Ill health can keep us from going to school or to work, from attending to our family responsibilities or from participating fully in the activities of our community. The Centre for Mental Health estimated that in 2016/17 the costs to employers of mental health problems at work was £34.9 billion.  The struggle that many face is sadly reflected in the shocking statistic of suicide being a leading cause of death in young people under 35. These are issues that affect our entire community.

Just this year, the TV and radio host Roman Kemp wrote a powerful open letter, revealing he had struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts when he was a teenager and was calling upon the government to provide mental health support in 100% of schools. With a current target of only 36% of schools in the UK having a mental health support team it was justly highlighted that if these targets were the same for our academic achievements, we would all agree that these simply wouldn’t have been good enough.

Why is so little attention given to mental health care when one in four people will be affected by a mental health condition throughout their lifetime?

The answer may lie in persistent stigma and discrimination.  Interrupted or restricted access to education limits employment opportunities for people with mental health conditions and those with psychosocial disabilities, thus perpetuating social inequality. Discrimination, harmful stereotypes and stigma in the community, family, schools and the workplace prevent healthy relationships, social interactions and the inclusive environments that are needed for anyone’s well-being.

Recognising the diversity of human experience and the multitude of ways in which people process life needs to be more broadly understood and the only way we can move the dial is to continue raising voices, listening and keeping the conversation about mental health equality alive.

World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for people and communities to unite behind the theme ‘Mental health is a universal human right” to improve knowledge, raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right.  To find out more about what you can do within your community please check out the links below.