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By Dr. David Woo - February 20, 2023
All humans, no matter country or creed, are concerned with our health. Our minds and bodies are fundamental aspects of our existence, independent of other factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Our health affects our ability to work, earn a livelihood, care for others, and participate in community life. If our health or that of our loved ones is threatened, we are often willing to pay any price. All this is true not just for physical health but mental as well. Given the universal value of both, it logically follows that mental health should be treated as a human right, and many international NGOs already recommend this.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health not just as the absence of disease but as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. This holistic approach more completely encompasses the attitude put forward by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which first declared that “the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being” should apply to all human beings.
According to a UN report on the right to mental health (1), there is evidence to show that complete health, as defined above, cannot be achieved without mental wellness. However, there is not a single country in the world that allocates as many resources to mental healthcare and treatment as it does to the physical. UN Right to Health expert Dainius Pūras noted in the report that mental health initiatives account for only around only 7% of global health budgeting. The situation is especially bleak in impoverished countries, where less than $2 annually is spent on mental health per person. Given that one in four individuals will be affected by mental health problems during their lifetime, what can explain the disparity?
Combating Stigma With Understanding
Another UN report on mental health and human rights (2) notes that individuals with mental health issues also experience a disproportionately higher incidence of physical health problems. This is significant, resulting in an average 20-year reduction in life expectancy for men and a 15-year reduction for women.
This situation is a result of stigma, discrimination, and poor support infrastructure regarding people with psychosocial disabilities. For example:
- Education may be limited or interrupted, which affects employment and quality of life further down the line.
- Family and social relationships can be negatively affected by social stigma and stereotyping.
- Discrimination toward the psychosocially disabled can also intersect with other forms, such as racism or sexism, to further exacerbate their social inequality.
Facing this level of discrimination and disregard can be daunting, which is why many people who suffer from a mental health condition band together in support groups, advocacy groups, charities, and various NGOs. Not only do these organizations pressure governments to take mental health more seriously and assign more resources to care, but many offer a peer-led support network of advice, medical contacts, and emotional support.
The fight for not just a recognition of mental health as a human right, but appropriate treatment for it takes place at local community levels all the way up to bodies like the UN. Much progress has been made by these groups over time, although the numbers show there is still plenty to be done.
The Importance of Seeking Help
It’s crucial to avoid reinforcing the social stigma against people with mental health problems. Although it may not present with symptoms of physical illness, a mental health condition is just as valid and can be every bit as debilitating as a physical disease.
If you think you may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, don’t delay seeking help. To make an appointment with a licensed healthcare professional at Madison Avenue TMS & Psychiatry, contact us online or call (212) 731-2033.
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Updated March 28, 2017. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/076/04/PDF/G1707604.pdf?OpenElement. Accessed January 04, 2023.
- Mental health and human rights – Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Updated July 24, 2018. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/232/93/PDF/G1823293.pdf?OpenElement2. Accessed January 04, 2023.
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