I feel like human rights exist in a latent form. There, but not really.

Under the UN definition, human rights are supposedly for everyone, regardless of race, religion, sex, nationality, ethnicity, etc. It claims one should have the right to life and healthcare. The right to freedom from slavery and torture, the right to work and be educated. Including one’s right to freely express themselves and share their opinion. Indeed they do sound like principles that promote equality and embrace human dignity. But on the surface though.

We are aware that many people across the globe can wake up with such privileges, whereas others do not have access to fundamental human rights. Although the ‘rights’ are outlined for us, they serve no purpose if there is no execution of these rights in many parts of the world. To be honest, most countries do not fully adhere to all human rights. Some even failed to sign the declaration like South Africa because they feared it could potentially disrupt the practices of racial segregation and discrimination at the time. The historic reign of self-serving governments, rewarding the rich while kneecapping the poor. Political repression isn’t something new and of course, governments continue to practice it. As long as corruption, dictatorship, and inaction exist -human rights will remain idealistic. A set of rights that pursue ‘aspirations’ of a better world instead of reality. They appear ambitious – a far reach for a society that thrives off inequality. The other issue is the lack of belief in these rights. Many communities would view these rights as a luxury not afforded to them. Something like the green light in the Great Gatsby – an intangible dream. What affirms one’s disbelief is the failure of the UN to accomplish its ideals. We are selling people a fantasy & many aren’t buying it. At this point, the rights are mere words – a piece of paper summarizing what one should have access to with no effective action.

Mental health has been placed on the back-burner in terms of policymaking, law, and reform. So, of course, it wasn’t defined in terms of our ‘basic’ human rights. Physical health has always received attention with regards to budgeting and medical education. Mental health has had a more difficult journey due to stigma and discrimination. For centuries it has suffered from a lack of understanding. However, the World Health Organisation recently redefined health as a ” state of complete mental, social and physical well-being, instead of the absence of disease or illness.” Slowly integrating the right to mental well-being.

Human rights violations affect one’s mental health. Being stripped of ‘basic’ human rights can take a toll on an individual. Having your freedom limited in some places is an everyday reality. Sadly it has become a norm and left many feeling that being free is a fragment of their imagination. It’s more than enough for the onset of a mental illness. With our current global stats sitting at 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental condition, the focus should promptly shift to fulfilling these rights. Providing mental health services for all and making sure it is accessible. Currently, the inequality between physical and mental health services puts many in a position where they cannot seek help because it simply isn’t available. In some countries, the only support is psychiatric institutions which have violated numerous human rights in the past. The ignorance towards the field resulted in the maltreatment of patients and exacerbated the way others viewed them. Treated as outcasts, prisoners of their minds and the system. Patients were disrespected and offered zero dignity. They were denied privacy and became bystanders in consultations regarding their treatment options. Patients were managed like criminals excluded from any decision-making. Typically one would be briefed on all options before they choose. But most were deemed ‘incompetent of making decisions for themselves.’ A place that had the power to offer security, stability, and help became patients’ worst nightmare. Our response to illness of the mind was captivity, forced sterilizations, and abuse.
Outdated practices that neglect holistic community-based support. Torture and victimization of patients have left a dark stain on how we view mental health and treat it. Before we consider solutions, we must understand the rights each individual possesses. Patients must be offered liberty and autonomy with their treatment options, they have the right to refuse and should not be labeled incompetent for doing so. The idea should always be to help and assist the patient, therefore practicing any seclusion or alienation is counterproductive. This creates further anxiety, stress, and fear in the patient. They have rights and should not be penalized because one cannot visibly see their illness.

The priority now should be catering to the whole population by developing cost-effective alternatives. Poverty is linked to mental health. The trauma and economic strain can be taxing on one’s well-being. People are caught in a cycle of living with mental conditions because they cannot afford it. When you need to put food on the table, overpriced healthcare isn’t even a thought. We must serve the needs of the less fortunate – they should not feel like their mental health is unattainable, among other human rights. Mental health must not become another elusive human right. It needs to be built into policy and reform followed by action. To acquire ‘belief’ in the system and move away from stigma – the words must have meaning in the form of hands-on progress. People must visibly see the changes instead of longing for a false promise. Which, yes, is how most politicians get by. But yet years later we find ourselves in a position where we understand our problems but refuse to solve them.


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