Human Rights Day is celebrated on 10 December, and is a time to reflect on the fundamental rights and freedoms every individual is entitled to.
Whilst many people associate human rights with issues like freedom of speech, equality, and access to education etc., it's important to recognise that mental health is also a critical aspect of this. It involves the right to express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns without fear of stigma or discrimination.
When individuals feel heard, they experience a sense of validation and respect, which can have a profound impact on their overall mental health.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FEELING HEARD IN MENTAL HEALTH
- Breaking Stigma: The fear of judgement and discrimination often prevents individuals from discussing their mental health issues openly. When people feel heard and supported, it can help break the stigma associated with mental ill-health.
- Empowerment: Being heard empowers individuals to take control of their mental health. It encourages them to make informed decisions about their wellbeing, access necessary treatment, and engage in self-care practices.
- Reducing Isolation: Mental health struggles can be incredibly isolating. When people feel heard, they realise they are not alone in their experiences, fostering a sense of connection and belonging.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL HEARD
Unfortunately, many individuals struggling with mental ill-health do not feel heard or understood. Here is how you can take steps to ensure your mental health rights are respected:
- Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or mental health professionals who you trust and believe will listen without judgement. Sometimes, all it takes is talking to someone you are comfortable with to feel heard.
- Self-Advocacy: Many people lack confidence to speak up with a healthcare provider if they feel the treatment plan is not working for them. It’s important to recognise that you are entitled to speak up as soon as you have any doubts or questions, and be an advocate for your own mental health. Don't hesitate to request another approach with your treatment, or even seek a second opinion.
- Join Support Groups: Support groups, whether in person or online, provide safe spaces where individuals can share their experiences and be heard by those who can relate.
HOW TO SUPPORT OTHERS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Supporting others with mental health struggles is a vital aspect of promoting mental health as a human right. If there is someone you know who needs help, here are some tips to assist –
- Offer Your Shoulder: Let the person know you are there for them and willing to support them in whatever way they feel comfortable with. Be patient and encouraging. Sometimes all it takes to make a positive difference to their world is to express your care.
- Have An Open Mind: Approach the conversation with an open mind to any issue the person may disclose. Avoid minimising their experiences. Remember that if it’s important to them, then it’s important!
- Show Empathy: Try to understand the emotions and challenges the person is going through, and even if you cannot relate to their situation, you can show empathy by simply acknowledging their feelings and experiences.
- Respect Their Privacy: Mental health issues can be deeply personal, and not everyone may want to share all the details. Respect their boundaries and don't press for information they're not ready to disclose.
- Educate Yourself: Take time to learn about mental health issues, treatment options, and available resources so that you can provide informed support and guidance.
Human Rights Day serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding the rights and freedoms of all individuals, including the right to mental health. Feeling heard is a critical aspect of mental health, as it can reduce stigma, empower individuals, and foster a sense of community. When individuals don’t feel heard, they should seek support and advocate for themselves. It is also helpful to be available for others with complex mental health issues. By having an open mind, showing empathy, respecting their privacy, and taking time to learn about mental health problems, we can contribute to a more compassionate and inclusive society that recognises mental health as a fundamental human right.
Dr. Carissa Coulston is a Clinical Psychologist with specialist knowledge in the areas of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, intellectual disability, personality disorders, traumatic brain injury and neurological conditions.