By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day, Mental health is a universal human right, calls on WHO, Member States and partners to accelerate efforts on mental health in a rights-based approach of man.
Historically, human rights have focused on needs such as food, housing and health care. However, mental health is an essential pillar of human well-being. Recognizing that mental health is a universal human right means recognizing the relationship between mental health and overall quality of life.
Mental health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to contribute to his life. community. It is not simply an absence of mental disorders but a positive state of mental and emotional well-being. This definition aligns with the broader conception of human rights as not only the freedom from suffering, but also the freedom to lead a fulfilling life.
Therefore, every individual, regardless of location, profession or identity, has the right to achieve the highest possible level of mental well-being. This encompasses the right to protect oneself from mental health risks, access to readily available, easily accessible and high-quality mental health care, and the right to freedom and participation within one’s own life. community.
It is also crucial to recognize that mental health intersects with various aspects of life, including education, employment, housing and social participation. A person’s mental well-being impacts their ability to exercise other rights, such as the right to education and the right to work. When mental health is protected, individuals are better equipped to engage meaningfully in society.
For mental health to be recognized as a universal human right, there must be a transformation in societal attitudes and government policies. All necessary measures must be taken to protect populations from risks related to mental health problems which include global issues such as climate change, humanitarian emergencies and social factors such as inequity and poverty. There is a need to raise awareness and educate to eliminate the stigma of mental health issues. Discrimination and stigma are major barriers that prevent individuals from seeking help and support. Additionally, mental health services and facilities should be accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic status, location, or other circumstances.
Although mental health is vital to our overall health and well-being, one in seven people live with mental health problems in countries in the WHO South-East Asia region. Mental, neurological, and substance use and self-harm disorders (MNSS) account for 23% of all years lived with disability (YLD) in this region. Anxiety and depressive disorders were the most common conditions among both men and women, accounting for almost 50% of the total number of people living with mental disorders in the WHO South-East Asia Region.
The WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia continued to work with partners to ensure that mental health is valued, promoted and protected.
Rights-based services are a key element of the Paro Declaration adopted by Member States’ Ministers of Health at the seventy-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia on universal access to person-centered mental health care and services. Southeast Asian Member States in September 2022. A human rights and gender equity approach to the planning and implementation of mental health programs and service delivery constitute also a cross-cutting principle of the recently launched WHO Mental Health Action Plan for the WHO South-East region. Asia region, 2023-2030.
To strengthen the expansion of community-based mental health services that are aligned with national and international human rights standards, WHO SEARO organized a regional workshop on: “Expansion of health services community-based mental health in the WHO South-East Asia region: scaling up care for action”, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 20-22, 2023.
Several Member States have updated their mental health policies and laws to include elements of international human rights instruments and other Member States are in the process of incorporating these elements. Significant progress has been made in access to mental health services through the strengthening of primary care and community mental health services in several countries. WHO will continue to support countries to further strengthen these services.
In 2023, WHO SEARO released an interactive dashboard containing epidemiological and burden data at the regional and national level, to better monitor the mental health situation in the Region.
Priority is given to accelerating and strengthening measures to operationalize aspects of human rights and mental health. One approach taken is to support states in their deinstitutionalization efforts, moving away from psychiatric hospitals and shifting the primary focus of mental health treatment and care to the community level. The other approach taken is to provide a platform for people with lived experience of mental health problems, their families and carers to come together and discuss their views with mental health program planners and social protection and agree on a way forward and draft a charter on their rights.
In conclusion, mental health is undeniably a universal human right. Just as the right to physical health is a fundamental aspect of human dignity, the right to mental health is equally essential.