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Unlocking minds, breaking chains: Mental Health as a Universal Human Right

By Jimisayo Opanuga
10 October 2023   |   8:06 am
In a world brimming with complexities, our minds are the epicentres of our existence, shaping the contours of our experiences and influencing the very fabric of our lives. As we stand on the precipice of World Mental Health Day 2023, a resounding theme echoes through the collective consciousness: 'Mental health is a universal human right.'

Mental Health

In a world brimming with complexities, our minds are the epicentres of our existence, shaping the contours of our experiences and influencing the very fabric of our lives. As we stand on the precipice of World Mental Health Day 2023, a resounding theme echoes through the collective consciousness: ‘Mental health is a universal human right.’

This year’s theme encapsulates the idea that irrespective of geographical boundaries, cultural nuances, or socio-economic disparities, the right to mental well-being is inherent to every individual.

“Our minds, our rights”
“Mental health is a universal human right” echoes the powerful sentiment that every individual, regardless of their background or circumstance, has an inherent entitlement to mental well-being. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this encompasses protection from mental health risks, access to quality care, and the fundamental rights to liberty, independence, and inclusion within the community.

Regrettably, the need for mental health awareness and advocacy is substantial. Sixty-three per cent of respondents to a Monster poll said their mental health was poor (35%) or fair (28%). Muse’s survey of 5,000 people revealed that 44%-38% felt overworked or burned out. Stress, reported by 47%, was identified as the biggest contributor to their negative experiences.

The stress is palpable for many groups, with 62% of women and 51% of men ages 18-34 feeling completely overwhelmed by stress, according to a poll by Stress in America. In a Cigna poll, 91% of Gen Zs reported feeling stressed, and 98% felt burned out.

The importance of mental health cannot be overstated. It is not merely the absence of mental disorders but a holistic state of well-being that allows individuals to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their communities.

“Nigerian Conundrum: Suicide as a Crime”
This clarion call is particularly pertinent in places like Nigeria, where an outdated legal stance compounds the mental health challenges its citizens face. Surprisingly, in Nigeria, attempting suicide is not only viewed with disdain but is also deemed a criminal offence. The Criminal Code of Nigeria declares, “Any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and shall be liable to imprisonment for one year.” This legal standpoint not only worsens the challenges of individuals grappling with mental health issues but also perpetuates a culture of silence and fear surrounding mental health discussions.
WHO reports that over 700,000 people take their own lives annually, and criminalising suicide only exacerbates distress. Deeming suicide a crime not only perpetuates stigma but also inhibits individuals from seeking the help they desperately need.

Mental health conditions should not be met with punishment but rather with understanding and access to appropriate care. The criminalization of suicide is an outdated approach that impedes progress in fostering a society where mental health is prioritised.

“WHO’s Call to Action”
On the global stage, the World Health Organisation has taken a firm stand on mental health as an inalienable human right. The theme “Mental health is a universal human right” serves as a rallying cry for communities worldwide to bridge the gap in knowledge, awareness, and actions necessary to safeguard the mental well-being of all individuals.

The WHO states unequivocally, “Everyone, whoever and wherever they are, has a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health.” This declaration includes protection from mental health risks, access to quality care, and the right to liberty, independence, and inclusion in the community. By recognising these rights, we acknowledge that good mental health is not a privilege reserved for a select few but a birthright for every human being.

Yet the statistics remain stark. One in eight people globally grapples with mental health conditions, a silent struggle that not only affects their psychological well-being but seeps into their physical health, relationships, and livelihoods. The impact is especially profound among adolescents and young people, shaping the trajectory of their lives in ways unimaginable.

However, having a mental health condition should never be a reason to strip someone of their fundamental human rights. It should not be a pretext for exclusion or discrimination. Yet, across the globe, individuals with mental health conditions bear the brunt of human rights violations. They face exclusion and discrimination, compounded by barriers that prevent them from accessing the mental health care they desperately need.

“Breaking the Chains: A Call to Action”
World Mental Health Day 2023 is not just a day of awareness; it is a call to action. It beckons us to dismantle the barriers that impede the realisation of mental health as a universal human right. It implores us to challenge outdated legal frameworks that perpetuate stigma and hinder progress.

It urges us to stand together, united in our pursuit of a world where mental well-being is not only acknowledged but safeguarded as an inherent right for all. And in Nigeria and beyond, it is time to advocate for laws and policies that promote mental health awareness, understanding, and access to care.
As we join the chorus of ‘Our minds, our rights,’ let our collective voices amplify this truth, paving the way for a world where our minds are respected, protected, and celebrated.

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