Just this morning alone, hundreds of millions of people across the globe will struggle to get out of bed.
Millions more will experience severe headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems that make it difficult – or even impossible – to function normally. And still millions of others will experience a misery so unimaginable that they will commit suicide.
The millions mentioned above are part of the 1 in 8 people globally who suffer from mental health issues. Whether it is depression or anxiety, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia, or one of the other 200 mental disorders that exist, mental health issues affect more people worldwide than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
Due to the significant global impact of mental health issues – exacerbated by the mental health crisis following COVID-19, where the prevalence of anxiety and depression alone skyrocketed by a whopping 25% – massive campaigns for increased mental health services have become more important than ever. One such campaign that has existed since 1992 is World Mental Health Day, created by the World Federation for Mental Health and celebrated every year on October 10th to promote mental health advocacy and to educate the public.
Since 1994, World Mental Health Day has been celebrated with a theme. This year’s theme is “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right.”
How is mental health a human right?
In 1948, member-states of the United Nations signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), an international document outlining a list of rights agreed to be inherent to all human beings. Included in this list is Article 25, stating that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.” This includes adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, security, and social services. Under international human rights law, all 192 signatories to the UDHR are obligated to respect these fundamental human rights, and to impose remedies when they are violated.
Unfortunately, we continue to find that people with mental health issues do not enjoy the same protection of their human rights as people without mental health issues. Specifically in the context of the right to health and well-being, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner reports that people with mental health issues experience disproportionately poorer physical health and reduced life expectancy. They lack proper access to social services, are more likely to be homeless, and are at higher risk of being victims of violent crime – all of which can be largely explained by stigma.
Simply put, people with mental health issues are often stereotyped as scary, crazy, or dangerous. As a result, others may not want to interact with them or take their needs seriously; they may be shunned or rejected from public spaces, thus receiving inadequate care. People suffering from mental health issues can also be mischaracterised as weak or cowardly, and may therefore feel dissuaded from seeking out help even when it is there, for fear of being mislabelled or mocked.
In a nutshell, the stigma associated to mental health issues can enable mechanisms that directly violate people’s human right to health and well-being. This is why mental health itself – and establishing mandated services to protect it – falls within the human rights framework.
What can you do this year to celebrate World Mental Health Day?
For this year’s World Mental Health Day, you can support the human rights of those suffering from mental health issues in a number of ways:
Share a post on awareness. To spread the message of World Mental Health Day, you can download a mental health awareness poster and share it online with your family and friends. Who knows – it may reach someone who needs it!
Donate. Mental health organisations and NGOs are often non-profit and require additional donations to pay their workers and maintain the integrity of their services. Consider offering a one-time donation, or even monthly donations, to organisations offering mental health services like Place2Be.
Sign a petition. Visit sites like Change.org or Amnesty International and have a look at what mental health-related petitions you can sign your name on. Here’s one about improving mental health services in Canada: https://www.change.org/p/premier-doug-ford-improve-the-canadian-mental-health-system
Volunteer. There are several mental health organisations that benefit greatly from potential volunteers like you. You can volunteer for a national crisis line, like Trans Lifeline or Kids Help Phone, or even an international emotional support service like 7 Cups.
Be kind to yourself. Sometimes, the person that can benefit most from our kindness is ourselves. If you are suffering from a mental health issue, you can practise self-compassion by taking a mental health day, having a long bath, or writing in a journal. Also consider talking to a trusted friend or family member, or even a mental health professional if you have access to one. Your mental health is a human right, and you deserve to exercise that right in whatever way is meaningful to you.
Written by: Serena Celeste Romanelli