Healing Minds, Healing Humanity: Mental Health is a Universal Human Right

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In the UAE, there is an active effort from the public and private sectors to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. However, the resistance to getting help remains, according to the Middle East Current Psychiatry journal, due to cultural reasons correlated to traditional values. Individuals grappling with mental health problems delay seeking treatment or avoid it altogether lest they be ostracized or discriminated against and, in so doing, end up battling debilitating conditions like anxiety, depression and chronic stress all on their own.

World Mental Health Day 2023, themed “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right,” aims to turn this narrative on its head and label mental health as a fundamental human right to all citizens of the world, whoever and wherever they are.

The Significance of World Mental Health Day 2023

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2023, “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right, places mental health into a human rights framework, emphasizing the pursuit of sound mental health as a basic human right for all. Like any universal human right, it needs to be upheld by both the individual and the community. As the World Health Organization (WHO) states, this year’s World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to “learn more about your basic right to mental health as well as how to protect the rights of others.”

This campaign aims to engage individuals, communities and institutions worldwide to raise awareness for mental health, promote social inclusion and knock down barriers to mental health care that often prevent people from seeking the help and support they need.

The Pillars of Universal Human Rights for Mental Health

To this day, many people who have mental illness are subjected to all sorts of discrimination and social injustice in communities, schools, workplaces and, at times, even within their families.

Some employers view mental illness as an obstacle that stands in the way of someone performing their job. Renters may turn away tenants if they disclose their condition and some healthcare systems may go so far as to lower their standard of care for people with mental health issues.

The “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right” framework stands up to these types of prejudices so that every person with a mental health difficulty, no matter who or where they are, has a right to:

1. Protection against known harms to mental health

Of course, genetics and biological predisposition have a hand in people’s mental health, but they are not the only contributing factors. When a person is consistently exposed to unruly stressors like poverty, inequality, violence and environmental deprivation, it can tilt the scales of their mental health for the worse.

These risks are ever-present in all stages of our lives. As adults, we might have even shrugged them off as part of our reality and made ourselves numb to their impact (however detrimental this might be to our mental health). But for children at the peak of their developmental years and height of susceptibility, exposure to these stressors can be particularly damaging because it shapes who they’ll become in their adult lives.

As such, this pillar of World Mental Health Day 2023 emphasizes how the entire population, and especially the most vulnerable among us — children, minorities and displaced peoples — have a basic human right to safety and protection against these types of obvious risks to our mental health.

2. Access to high-quality, affordable care

Almost one billion people around the world are living with mental disorders. Even those who were brave enough to break free from the stigma and sought help still had to jump through another hoop: finding quality care at an affordable price.

According to WHO, 75% of people who have mental disorders in low and middle-income countries don’t receive the care they need, specifically depression treatment, because it’s either nonexistent, underdeveloped or too expensive.

In recasting mental health as a universal human right, the World Mental Health Day 2023 campaign aspires to nudge governments and healthcare systems worldwide to account for the needs of people with mental health issues and put affordable, quality care in place for all.

3. Freedom and dignity

Anyone who’s been visited by a mental disorder knows how much of a struggle it can be. Attempting to do routine things that others often perform on autopilot, like getting out of bed in the morning, going to school or interacting with people, can feel like chipping away at an immovable wall.

Additionally, people with mental disorders often experience rejection and labeling due to the common misconception that mental health issues can be overcome through willpower. As a consequence, individuals with mental disorders frequently experience low self-esteem and feelings of shame.

Here is where reclaiming mental health as a human right is arguably the most impactful. As mentioned, the fear of being stigmatized is one of the main reasons people choose to keep their condition a secret and endure it alone.

But when mental health is upheld as a human right, it’s stripped of its negative connotations, and with that, people with mental illness no longer have to suffer in silence. Instead, they can openly ask for the support they need with all the freedom and dignity that every human being deserves.

Mental Health: A Global Responsibility

World Mental Health Day 2023 is a clarion call for all people to spread understanding and recognize mental health as a fundamental human right for all of us.

If you’re someone who’s been living with mental health challenges, you don’t have to fight on your own anymore. Speak up, ask for help, and remember that you have the right to the enjoyment of full well-being.

Evolve Brain Training is an award-winning wellness center that uses clinically proven, non-invasive techniques like neurofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy to treat stress, anxiety and depression without medication. Book a consultation with us to learn how we can help you on your journey toward better mental health.

Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, a Neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain's true potential.

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