Aatma Prakash

World Mental Health Day 2023

My Mind , My Right

Mental Health Being the Universal Right of All 

The word “health” as we know it is defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. However, till to this date, it has been seen that mental health remains a neglected part of global efforts to improve health. The World Health Organisation (2019) has stated that people with mental health issues are found to experience widespread human rights violations, discrimination and stigma

These forms of discrimination which the people with mental health issues face in their society are found to impede their ability to lead meaningful lives. For instance, depending on the severity of the illness itself, (for example, a person suffering from schizophrenia) they are often forced to deal with other issues, such as poverty and homelessness, social dislocation and alienation, and being subject to discrimination as a result of the stigma attached to certain kinds of mental illnesses. 

Researchers have stated that persons living with mental health issues ‘suffer more from the social consequences of their illness than from the actual psychopathology’ because, in addition to dealing with the symptoms of their illnesses, they are subject to ‘coercive and repressive forms of abuse and large scale neglect’ which comes either from ‘chronic institutionalisation in inhuman and humiliating conditions’ or through deinstitutionalisation and the failure to provide adequate community care. 

The WHO has reported that the expenditure after mental health for all countries ‘represents less than 5% of general government health expenditures’. Along with that in 2005, the WHO reported that 62% of the world’s countries either had outdated mental health legislation or no mental health legislation at all. In 2011, the WHO reported that there was a lack of mental health policy in around 40% of countries and in the world’s lowest-income countries, only 36% of them had mental health legislation.  

 Hence, from the above mentioned information, research has deduced that a human rights-based approach to protecting the right to mental health is important because human rights law provides fundamental protections ‘without qualification or exception’. Along with that, an international human rights approach can secure the right to mental health since it is the only source of law that ‘legitimizes international scrutiny of mental health policies and practices within a sovereign country’. Finally, conceptualising the right to mental health as a universal human right suggests that States ‘possess binding obligations to respect, defend, and promote that entitlement’

WHO’s Initiative to make Mental Health a Universal Right of all

The Director-General of World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that after reviewing the information given by the research about the legislation of mental health, it is now time to act to empower communities and individuals to attain the highest standard of health, which can only be achieved when their mental health and well-being is ensured, and their rights respected. Hence, a vision was created by the WHO which was termed as Special Initiative for Mental Health which stated that all people achieve the highest standard of mental health and well-being.

To implement this Special Initiative for Mental Health Initiative (2019-2023), WHO formulated two strategic action plans. They are as follows:

  • Strategic Action 1: Advancing Mental Health Policy, Advocacy and Human Rights

This strategic action states that globally mental health is positioned high on the development and humanitarian agendas. Local champions such as people who use mental health services, and their organisations are empowered to participate in the development and implementation of mental health policies, strategies, laws and services. Along with that, mental health policies, strategies and laws are developed and operationalized based on international human rights standards. Moreover, media and community awareness about the importance of mental health across the life course are to be raised. Also, human and financial resources for mental health are brought in line with the needs of the people suffering from mental health issues.

  • Strategic Action 2: Scaling up interventions and services across Community-Based, General Health and Specialist Settings

This strategic action states that quality needs to be provided where affordable mental health care is scaled up across health and social services. Along with that, mental health and psychosocial support needs to be included for preparedness, response and recovery in emergencies. Priority interventions for groups in positions of vulnerability (for example, women, children, youth, older people, staff) needs to be developed and implemented. Furthermore, implementation needs to be documented, monitored and evaluated to have any improvement in the services provided.

This initiative taken by WHO is entirely based on the country-by-country approach as it can help to formulate a tailored approach for each priority country, building on existing strengths and needs and a key advantage to this country-by-country approach is sustainability of this initiative.

Hence, to conclude this it can be stated that the Special Initiative for Mental Health taken by WHO was to integrate the mental health care across all levels of health care, including community, primary, non-specialist hospital, and specialist services. Such integration of care will further help in  achieving universal health coverage and ensuring  optimal reach to as many individuals, families and communities as possible with affordable services and interventions for mental health conditions. Remember, mental health is not a destination but a lifelong journey that would require attention, care and compassion. 

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