In a world where discussions about human rights often revolve around topics like freedom of speech, education, and access to clean water, the concept of mental health as a universal human right might not always be at the forefront of our minds. However, as someone who has personally navigated the complexities of mental health, I firmly believe that mental wellbeing is an essential and inalienable right for all individuals. With Mental Health Awareness Day just around the corner on 10th October, I wanted to talk about my own experiences and how you too can navigate the complexities of mental health.
The Hidden Struggles
Mental health struggles are often concealed behind closed doors. Just like any other medical condition, individuals facing mental health challenges experience pain, fear, and uncertainty. For many, the battle begins internally, invisible to the outside world. My own journey with mental health issues began this way, with feelings of anxiety and depression that I kept hidden for fear of stigma and judgement. My mental health struggles started when I was at school, due to an incident of sexual assault at just 14. I kept my struggles hidden and this led to over 10 years of mental health relapses. I had never understood the root cause of my struggles and consequently needed to be proactive in talking openly about my experiences in order to accept the impact this incident had on my overall mental health.
The Isolation and Stigma
One of the most significant barriers to recognising mental health as a universal human right is the stigma that surrounds it. Society's judgemental attitudes and misconceptions can exacerbate the isolation already felt by those struggling. It took me years to open up about my mental health because I feared being labelled as weak or broken. Mental health conditions are real, and they should be treated with the same empathy and support as physical illnesses. When I was struggling with depression, anxiety and PTSD after the birth of my first son, it felt easier to tell my GP about my struggles because postpartum mental health concerns are understood. This however, was only part of my struggles and my therapist helped me unravel the stigma surrounding my ongoing battles from my childhood that were impacting my feelings surrounding motherhood.
Access to Care
Access to mental health care is another crucial aspect of recognising mental health as a human right. Just as everyone has the right to seek medical treatment for physical ailments, individuals should have equal access to mental health care services. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In my own experience, finding affordable and accessible mental health care was a daunting challenge. The lack of resources and long wait times can be discouraging, leaving many to suffer in silence. NHS mental health services have long waiting lists, and for some, more intense therapy is needed. Due to my financial situation, I was able to afford a private therapist, and I know how lucky and privileged I am to be in that situation. However, not everybody has access to this and therefore more needs to be done. People are waiting and their mental health struggles are getting worse.
The Impact on Daily Life
Mental health is not an abstract concept; it directly impacts our daily lives. When my mental health deteriorated, it affected every aspect of my existence – from my relationships and work to my overall sense of self-worth. Recognising mental health as a universal human right means acknowledging that no one should have to endure this pain or carry this burden alone. Schools have the power to support children, and this should carry on into the workplace in future. I am very grateful for every company I have worked with to be grounded in practising what good wellbeing and mental health looks like, with support across the board.
The Path to Empowerment
Accepting mental health as a universal human right empowers individuals to seek help without shame. It encourages open conversations, reduces stigma, and normalises the idea that seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. In my journey toward healing, acknowledging this right allowed me to take the crucial step of seeking professional help. I remember my therapist telling me I take my inhaler for my asthma every day to be able to breathe, so taking my sertraline every day to keep my mental health controlled is only doing the same thing for my brain that my inhaler does for my lungs. There is still stigma surrounding medication, and for mental health to be a universal human right, mindsets need to shift.
A Call to Action
As someone who has experienced the transformative power of mental health support, I believe it is our collective responsibility to advocate for mental health as a universal human right. We must:
Raise Awareness: Start conversations about mental health in our communities and break the silence surrounding it. Share our stories to reduce stigma.
Support Accessible Services: Advocate for better access to mental health care, including affordable therapy and counselling, particularly in underserved communities.
Promote Education: Encourage mental health education in schools and workplaces to increase understanding and empathy.
Advocate for Policy Change: Support policies that prioritise mental health care and work to eliminate discrimination against individuals with mental health conditions.
Due to my own experiences of poor mental health, my career has navigated into me supporting and working with mental health and wellbeing platforms, alongside working alongside therapists. I am very privileged to be working with eQuoo who are helping students with their own mental health through their clinically-proven app. This is the app that I wished I had during my school experiences as I would have built upon my own resilience from a young age.
Mental health is not a luxury or something reserved for a privileged few; it is a universal human right. My own lived experience has taught me that mental health struggles are real, and they can happen to anyone. It's time for society to recognise this right, reduce stigma, and ensure that everyone has access to the support they need to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. Mental health is not an option; it's a fundamental human right that we must all stand up for.