Why Mental Health Rights are Human Rights? BrainsWay

Why Mental Health Rights are Human Rights

Recognizing a standard level of mental health as a human right has increasingly become an internationally-accepted perspective. What was once somewhat of an afterthought to securing the tangible, physical rights of refugees, marginalized communities, and humanity at large, has begun to be perceived as an intrinsic element of the human experience that needs to be acknowledged and nurtured in order to secure a beneficent quality of life.

Read on to find out how mental health rights are now being discussed, and what can be being done to meet the world’s mental health needs at present.

2 Peopld holding hands

The Progression of Human Rights and Mental Health

As mentioned above, mental healthcare has not always been considered a touchstone to overall well-being. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) mentioned food, clothing, housing, and medical care as basic needs necessary for “health and well-being.” The question of whether mental health is a human rights issue, had yet to be seriously discussed.

Toward the end of the 20th Century, however, a more holistic and complex approach to health began to receive greater consideration. As a result, the UNGA’s right to health was later expanded to include mental health, in addition to sex autonomy, and education.

The idea that mental health rights are human rights echoes earlier fights for recognition and support, particularly that of women. In 1995, Hillary Clinton quoted existing feminist rhetoric, saying at the United Nations Conference on Women that “women’s rights are human rights,” and therefore just as basic and deserving.

In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO, a UN agency focused on global public health) published a report on the state of mental health around the world. In it, the WHO stated that only 7% of government spending on health goes to addressing mental health needs.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had similarly found the following:

  • One in four individuals will be affected by a mental health condition during their lifetime.
  • Almost two-thirds of those affected will not seek out treatment, in large part due to mental health stigma. Clinical language surrounding mental health issues can also be hard to understand and cause many patients and their families to pathologize a mental health disorder and reject seeking treatment, so as not to be associated with such a condition.
  • Poor mental health often predisposes physical health issues.
  • On a related note, in 2017, those contending with mental health issues were found to have a lower life expectancy: 20 years lower for males, and 15 years lower for females.

Where Things Stand

In 2022, the WHO released a comprehensive, updated report that stressed the essential link between human rights and mental illness. It stated that:

  • Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, close to a billion individuals across the globe had been dealing with a mental health disorder.
  • This number then increased due to the added stressors introduced by the coronavirus outbreak, with anxiety and depression going up 25% during the first year of the pandemic.
  • Suicide accounts for more than 1% of all deaths.
  • Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability, causing an average of one-to-six years of living with disability.
  • 70% of individuals with psychosis receive mental healthcare in high-income countries, compared to 12% in low-income countries.
  • Treatment rates for depression were found to be low beyond socioeconomic status: 23% of those battling depression in high-income countries receive what can be considered minimal mental healthcare, whereas only 3% of those with depression in low-and-lower-income countries receive treatment.

Depressed woman

What Can Be Done to Improve Global Mental Health

In order for mental health to truly be considered a basic human right, the WHO is now calling for a worldwide overhaul, via shift in government funding and prioritization.

Specifically, the WHO Comprehensive Action Plan 2013-2030 states that the following changes need to be implemented for mental health to significantly improve on a global scale:

  • Develop, fund, and implement more government laws and policies focused on mental health.
  • Pursue evidence-based policies and provide evidence-based information to individuals under their care.
  • Integrate mental healthcare into general healthcare programs, schools, and prisons.
  • Promote mental healthcare coverage by insurance companies.
  • Move away from detached, custodial care facilities, and instead build community-based mental health networks.
  • Improve the environments of at-risk populations, for example, by taking action against intimate partner abuse, abuse of the elderly, and the abuse of children.
  • Fortify the rights of those in need of mental healthcare and provide them with necessary livelihood support.
  • Incorporating digital technology, remote care, and self-help techniques to offer mental health support and treatment for those who find it difficult to access in-person, available treatment options.

Making Mental Healthcare Worthwhile

The WHO stresses that mental healthcare is not only a moral imperative, but that treating mental health issues benefits society as a whole.

According to research, treating the more common disorders of anxiety and depression has a cost-benefit ratio of five-to-one. As such, offering preemptive care, in addition to real-time treatment, has the advantage of saving governments and individuals a great deal of resources—and anguish.

Part of building a supportive, pro-mental health community is showing up for loved ones. As we all continue fighting together for a better, and healthier future, it is important to remember to check in on those who could benefit from some extra care, listen to what they want to share with you, and offer to help them connect to a mental health professional when needed.