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Access to mental health is a universal human right

October 9, 2023
Alexandra Hopkins

Mental health is something that we all have, just like physical health. Although not everyone will experience a mental health issue in their lives, everyone will face challenging times where their mental wellbeing is impacted. Because mental health affects us all, it’s essential that mental health services are equally available to everyone, everywhere.

The 10th October is World Mental Health Day and the campaign organisers, World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH) have chosen the theme: ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’. This message supports the WFMH’s aims to ensure that all people across all nations receive quality mental healthcare and that everyone’s mental wellbeing is respected, so that anyone with mental health difficulties has:

  • The right to be protected from harms known to mental health
  • The right to quality and affordable mental health care
  • The right to freedom, dignity and the right of choice

Although mental health issues can affect anyone, some groups of people are more likely to experience mental healthcare inequalities which puts them at greater risk of poor mental health. The NHS describes healthcare inequalities as “unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population and across different groups within society.” These inequalities can be caused by the conditions that we grow, work and live in, the health conditions we experience or the care that’s available to us.

For example, people who live in high deprivation areas are more at risk of mental healthcare inequalities, with one study finding that 25% of adults who live in high deprivation areas have symptoms of depression, as do 59% of adults who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness. The cost of living crisis is likely to exacerbate this situation; 24% of people who struggle to pay their energy bills experience depressive symptoms, compared with 9% of people who find paying their bills easy.

Certain ethnic groups, such as Black, Asian and minority communities are also more at risk of healthcare inequalities. There are often multiple reasons for this, but according to Mind, experiences of racism can mean that a person is more likely to develop depression, hallucinations and delusions, and where physical assault is involved, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Healthcare inequalities can also be a result of the barriers that some people face when trying to seek health advice or treatment, for example:

  • The availability of healthcare services in their local area
  • Their financial situation (whether they can afford to pay for private healthcare)
  • Access to transport
  • Access to childcare
  • The language they speak or write
  • Misinformation
  • Stigma and fear

Like physical health problems, mental health health difficulties need to be treated as quickly as possible; the longer that people have to wait for treatment, the worse their condition is likely to get (you can read more about recognising mental health issues early on here).

In the UK, where you live can determine how quickly you can access mental healthcare. Research shows that on average an NHS patient waits 21 days between their referral and their first treatment, and then 50 days between their first and second treatment. However, this varies; in South Sefton in Merseyside, the average wait time between referral and treatment is 229 days (almost eight months).

Stigma around mental health can also delay people getting the treatment they need. Men in particular may find it difficult to open up about their emotions, so they suffer in silence rather than reaching out for help. If you identify as a man, you can read more about why it’s important to talk about your mental health here.

It’s clear that different populations have different needs and there’s still a long way to go until quality mental healthcare is accessible and fair for all. That’s why World Mental Health Day is so important; to raise awareness and make mental health and wellbeing a global priority. You can find out more about World Mental Health Day on the WFMH website and get involved using the campaign hashtags and acronyms: #MHUHR #MHUniversalHR #UHR4MH.

At ieso, we offer online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to treat a range of mental health issues. Patients can login from wherever they are and ‘speak’ with a therapist by typing back and forth. Our service is designed with flexibility in mind and appointments can be made in the daytime and evening. Plus, it’s free for some NHS patients - access typed therapy with ieso here.

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This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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