Mental Health as a Universal Human Right: Why It Matters Now More Than Ever
In a world where physical health and wellness often take precedence, the importance of our mental wellbeing can sometimes be overshadowed. Yet, as the United Nations ardently champions, mental health is not just a personal concern – it’s a universal human right.
We live with what’s going on in our heads 24/7, and the quality of our mental health transcends individual boundaries. It influences our families, our workplaces, and the very fabric of our society. Its significance can’t be overstated, not just for the profound impact on individual lives but for the ripple effects that resonate far and wide.
As we navigate the complexities of modern life, the call to recognise and prioritise mental health becomes not just a matter of personal wellbeing, but a societal imperative. What seemingly affects any one of us affects us all.
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The Ripple Effects of Poor Mental Heath
When we speak of mental health, it’s not just an individual’s state of mind we’re referring to. It’s the collective wellbeing of families, communities, and entire organisations. The repercussions of neglected mental health are vast and varied:
- Workplace Implications: Poor mental health can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and a higher turnover rate.1 For businesses, this translates to financial losses and a potential decline in company reputation. Moreover, a stressed workforce can stifle creativity, innovation, and collaboration – key drivers of business growth.2
- Economic Impact: According to Deloitte, the UK economy loses up to £56bn annually due to work-related mental health issues.3 This includes costs associated with healthcare, lost workdays, and employee turnover.
- Societal Consequences: Beyond the workplace, poor mental health can strain family relationships, reduce community cohesion,4 and increase dependency on social services.5 It’s a cycle where mental health challenges can lead to social isolation,6 which in turn exacerbates mental health issues.
- Physical Health Correlation: There’s a symbiotic relationship between mental and physical health. Chronic stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to a host of physical ailments, from heart disease to weakened immune systems.7 Conversely, chronic physical ailments can also lead to deteriorating mental health.8
The magnitude of the issue is clear. According to The Office of National Statistics “1 in 6” people are struggling with mental wellbeing.9 Yet, despite its pervasive impact, mental health often remains an afterthought in political agendas and societal discussions.
The UK’s Current Stance on Mental Health Legislation
The importance of mental health is undeniable, yet the legislative response in the UK paints a concerning picture. While the global community, led by entities like the United Nations, pushes for the recognition of mental health as a fundamental human right, the UK’s approach has been, at best, inconsistent.
- UN’s Critique: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly voiced concerns over the UK’s legislative agenda concerning mental health. Such international scrutiny underscores the urgency and gravity of the situation, urging the nation to reconsider its priorities.
- The Abandoned Mental Health Plan: In a perplexing move, the government decided to scrap its 10-year Mental Health Plan earlier this year. This decision came at a time when the demand for mental health support in the UK has never been higher, with many questioning the rationale behind such a step.
- Uncertainty Surrounding the First-Aid (Mental Health) Bill: The Mental Health Bill, which many hoped would bring about much-needed reforms, now hangs in the balance. Its future remains uncertain, with no clear indication of when, or even if, it will receive a second reading.
While legislation is a reflection of a nation’s priorities, it’s also a testament to its commitment to its citizens’ wellbeing.
The current legislative landscape in the UK, with its apparent gaps and inconsistencies, calls for a more proactive, informed, and compassionate approach. It’s a reminder that while laws and policies are essential, they must be rooted in a genuine understanding and acknowledgement of the challenges at hand.
The Need for Proactive Leadership
Legislation, while crucial, is only one aspect of the complex challenge of addressing mental health. History has shown that legislative change, though impactful, often trails behind societal needs, sometimes by years or even decades.
While it’s important to advocate for more robust and supportive laws, we must also recognise the importance of proactive leadership outside the realm of politics.
- Businesses Leading the Charge: Organisations, especially those with significant influence and reach, have a unique opportunity to set precedents. By prioritising employee mental health, offering support, and fostering a culture of understanding, businesses can create ripple effects that extend beyond their walls.
- Community Initiatives: Grassroots movements, community support groups, and local initiatives play a pivotal role in filling the gaps left by legislation. By providing immediate support, resources, and awareness, these groups offer a lifeline to many.
- Educational Institutions: Schools, colleges, and universities are the training grounds for future leaders. By integrating mental health education and support into our curriculums, we can equip the next generation with the tools and understanding they need.
- Media and Public Figures: The power of media and influential figures cannot be understated. By using their platforms to spread awareness, share stories, and advocate for change, they can shift public perception and drive societal change.
While we await more comprehensive and supportive legislation, it’s these proactive leaders – businesses, communities, educational institutions, and influential figures – that can pave the way.
Their actions, initiatives, and voices can serve as beacons of hope and catalysts for change as we bend our trajectory towards greater justice and equity.
Role of Employers in Championing Mental Health
Employers hold a pivotal role in shaping the mental wellbeing of their workforce. As the lines between work and personal life continue to blur, organisations must step up, recognising their responsibility and the immense benefits of a mentally healthy workforce.
Here’s how employers can lead the charge:
- Implement a Comprehensive Mental Health Policy: A well-defined policy acts as a foundation, guiding an organisation’s approach to mental health. This policy should encompass both preventive measures to foster wellbeing and reactive measures to support those facing challenges. It should also address support for general mental wellbeing and specific diagnosed conditions.
- Prioritise Mental Health Training: With work-related stress reaching record highs, training becomes paramount. Just as employees wouldn’t be sent into physically hazardous environments without preparation, they shouldn’t face mentally stressful situations unprepared. Training should be extended to all employees, with specialised modules for managers to equip them to support their teams better.
- Manage Workloads and Environments: A supportive work environment is one where tasks and expectations are clear and workloads are manageable. Employers must actively monitor and adjust workloads, ensuring that employees aren’t subjected to unsustainable mental pressures.
- Promote Open Discussions: The stigma surrounding mental health is a significant barrier to seeking help. Employers can break this barrier by fostering an environment where mental health discussions are normalised. By encouraging open, stigma-free conversations, organisations can move from a medicalised view of mental health to one that sees it as a natural part of the human experience.
- Lead by Example: Senior leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone. By openly discussing their mental health journeys, challenges, and strategies, leaders can inspire others to do the same, creating a culture of understanding and support.
In the quest for profitability and growth, it’s easy to overlook the human element. However, forward-thinking employers recognise that their greatest asset is their people.
By championing mental health, they not only support their employees but also pave the way for a more productive, engaged, and loyal workforce.
How Employees Can Take Charge
While employers play a significant role in fostering a supportive environment, employees too have agency in championing their own mental wellbeing. Taking proactive steps can not only enhance personal mental health but also contribute to a healthier workplace culture.
Here’s how employees can be proactive:
- Utilise Available Support and Resources: Many organisations offer resources, from counselling services to wellness programmes. Being informed about and utilising these resources can make a significant difference.
- Engage in Workplace Wellbeing Initiatives: Whether it’s a weekly mindfulness session or a monthly workshop on stress management, participating in these initiatives can equip employees with tools and techniques to manage their mental health better.
- Build Peer Support Networks: The power of community cannot be overstated. By building and leaning into peer support networks at work, employees can find a safe space to share, vent, and seek advice. Initiatives like “check-in” sessions can be invaluable, offering a platform for open dialogue.
- Integrate Mental Health into Regular Discussions: Mental health shouldn’t be a once-a-year topic. By integrating it into regular team meetings and 1-to-1s, employees can ensure it remains a priority. This not only helps in early identification of potential issues but also normalises the conversation around mental wellbeing.
- Educate and Advocate: Knowledge is power. By staying informed about mental health topics and advocating for better support and resources, employees can drive change from within the organisation.
Mental health is a collective responsibility. While organisations lay the groundwork, employees can build upon it, creating a close and reciprocal relationship where mental wellbeing is both a personal and shared goal.
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That’s a Wrap!
The journey to recognising and prioritising mental health as a universal human right is multifaceted, requiring collective effort from global entities, governments, employers, and individuals alike. As we’ve explored, the implications of mental health stretch far beyond personal wellbeing, influencing societal structures, economic outcomes, and the very essence of our communities.
While legislative changes and global advocacy lay essential foundations, the real change occurs in our daily interactions, workplace policies, and personal choices. Employers have a golden opportunity to lead by example, creating environments that not only acknowledge but actively support mental wellbeing. Employees, on the other hand, hold the power to advocate for themselves and their peers, driving grassroots change.
Mental health is not a luxury or an afterthought; it’s a fundamental right that deserves our utmost attention and effort.
To our readers, we urge you to take a moment today to reflect on your mental wellbeing and that of those around you. Engage in conversations, seek support when needed, and always remember: your mental health matters.
Let’s collectively work towards a future where mental wellbeing is recognised, prioritised, and celebrated.
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