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“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…”

The right to mental health is an essential component of human rights. As stated above, even the United Nations recognizes this in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The importance of mental health and human rights are being treated with compassion and respect nowadays. Companies, schools, and other institutions have acknowledged that mental health is essential to the right to life. Parallel to this reality is a heightened understanding of the connection between mental health and human rights.

More importantly, it’s a widely recognized truth that every individual has the right to the highest attainable standard of mental health. Furthermore, this includes access to quality mental health care, support networks, and protection from discrimination and stigma surrounding mental health conditions. Though society at large still has a long way to go with how mental health is treated, we must unlock the stigma surrounding mental health and human rights. The small steps we take in understanding and empathizing directly impact the direction of mental health in the future.

The Stigma and Discrimination Surrounding Mental Health

Stigma and discrimination against people with mental health conditions continue to persist. Many people face prejudice in their personal lives, workplaces, and even within healthcare systems. Moreover, such discrimination violates human rights and is a barrier to seeking help and accessing appropriate treatment. Efforts are being made to challenge stigma, raise awareness, and promote inclusivity and acceptance.

Books like Asylum Scandals by Patricia Lubeck are a perfect read for us to be aware of the harsh approach to mental health behind the asylum walls. Moreover, the author also illustrates this dark part of history by shedding light on the issues of past asylums that exercised inhumane treatment to all their patients. Through the lens of this book, we can gain some awareness about how mental health was stigmatized.

There are a lot of areas to tackle in this category, to the point that unpacking the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health and human rights would take a whole century. However, that doesn’t mean we can escape the difficult conversations. Depending on the country and culture, the attitude towards mental health and human rights remains bleak. Dismantling the stigma requires a tremendous amount of effort from all sides so we can understand how to deal with this better.

Involuntary Treatment and Breach of Consent

Balancing the need for mental health treatment with individual rights is a complex issue and remains debatable. In some cases, involuntary treatment is necessary to protect the person’s well-being or the safety of others. However, it is crucial to establish safeguards to prevent abuse and ensure that involuntary treatment is used as a last resort. Respecting the autonomy and dignity of individuals is essential to uphold their human rights.

Respecting an individual’s autonomy and right to make decisions about their healthcare is a fundamental principle of medical ethics and human rights. Additionally, informed consent requires that individuals have access to information about their condition, treatment options, potential risks, and benefits. In involuntary treatment cases, where consent cannot be obtained, measures should be in place to ensure that decisions are made in the person’s best interest and with due consideration for their rights.

The Rights of Vulnerable Populations

Certain groups face specific challenges when it comes to mental health and human rights. For example, children, refugees, prisoners, and individuals with disabilities are more vulnerable to mental health issues and often experience significant barriers to accessing adequate care. Addressing the unique needs of these populations requires a comprehensive approach that considers their rights, as shown below.

Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents have specific rights related to mental health, including:

  • Access to age-appropriate mental health services and support.
  • Protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation that can contribute to mental health issues.
  • The right to participate in decisions regarding their mental health care to the extent appropriate for their age and maturity.
  • Support for their overall well-being, including social, emotional, and educational needs.


Prisoners have the right to mental health care that meets their specific needs, recognizing that incarceration can have a significant impact on mental well-being.

  • Refugees and displaced persons often struggle due to the trauma, loss, and forced migration they have experienced.
  • Protection from abuse or neglect by staff or other inmates.
  • Support for rehabilitation and reintegration into the community to prevent recidivism.

Individuals with Disabilities

People with disabilities often face multiple barriers to accessing mental health care. They may experience higher rates of mental health issues.

  • Equal access to mental health services, accommodations, and supports to address their specific needs.
  • Protection from discrimination and stigma based on disability, ensuring that mental health care is inclusive and accessible.
  • The right to participate in decisions about their mental health care, with reasonable accommodations provided as necessary.

The Intersectionality of Mental Health and Human Rights

Human rights advocates play a crucial role in championing the rights of individuals with mental health conditions. Furthermore, they work to influence policies, challenge discriminatory practices. These groups also raise awareness about the importance of mental health as a human rights issue. Collaborations between mental health professionals, policymakers, and human rights organizations are essential in driving systemic change.

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