Mental Health is a Human Right

by Nassar Loza

Dr. Loza is President of the World Federation for Mental Health, Director of The Behman Hospital, the Maadi Psychology Centre, and practices at several Behman Consultations Clinics in Cairo, as well as the International Clinic in London.

The evolving concepts of human rights are a huge step forward in empowering the rights of people with mental illness. Policy makers have responded to the call for prioritizing mental health as a human right. The World Federation for Mental Health has taken this call seriously, by choosing “Mental Health is a Human Right” for World Mental Health Day. Our goal is to highlight the need for societies to support the call for mental health as a human right.

Establishing an objective measure for the rights of people with mental health issues in societies would be an important step forward toward this goal. The United Nations commission on Human rights resolution of 1997 offered a roadmap to guide states in improving mental health systems. In addition, national mental health legislation reviews are a good measure of political commitment to the cause. Both measures acknowledge the importance of promoting the rights of people with mental illness within a human rights framework.

The Universal declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) established in 1948 incorporates the right to both physical and mental well-being among citizens. People with mental illnesses face several obstacles including discrimination and stigma. These affect integral parts of their lives including employment, education, and social life. Discrimination and stigma  hinder their recovery and re-integration into society. The rights of people with mental illness and their carers includes the right to a support system and includes a chance at moving forward with their lives. Therefore, by recognizing and advocating for the rights of people with mental illness, we create awareness for the importance of prioritizing fundamental human rights. Awareness can be achieved through including mental health in education, creating anti-stigma and awareness campaigns, as well as establishing legislation to protect the rights of people with mental illness.

It is important when this takes place at the national level. As an example, the Egyptian Society for the Rights of People with Mental Illness was founded in 2009 to advocate and fight against stigma for mental illness patients and their families. The society, in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, worked on drafting legislation that would set guidelines for practitioners and that would protect the rights of people with mental illness.

Implementation of this new law helped evolve the concepts of care. Treatment of patients within mental institutions became less stigmatizing. The Society’s vision remains focused on creating fair treatment and a better quality of life for those affected by mental illness including patients, their carers, families, and friends.

The rights of people with mental illness is only one challenge in the range of issues associated with human rights and psychology. Societies at large need to respect the rights of their citizens to enjoy good quality of life reflecting on their mental health. This is not an aim in the future but a basic human right in our global society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *