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Mental Health is a Universal Human Right

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

As part of our World Mental Health Day Blog Series, Dr Clara Calia and Penny Catterick reflect on this year's theme 'Mental Health is a Universal Human Right' and their work as members of the British Psychological Society's Human Rights Advisory group.


This World Mental Health Day is not just a day of recognition, it is remembering that every new dawn brings with it the human right to dominion and agency over our individual and collective mental wellbeing. But in the 21st century perhaps the leading question effecting the global population is simply, how much agency and freedom we retain over our individual thoughts and intellect; do we retain power over how we live and enjoy our lives.

Since the traumatic beginnings of the human rights conventions in 1948, rising up from the rubble of a man's war upon itself, the world has seen incredible achievements of human endeavour and ingenuity, while at the same time witnessed humanitarian horrors, deprivation and poverty. Every action, individual or global, begins with a thought, but few people consider it necessary to concern themselves with, and to attend to, their mental health each and every day. Do those humanitarian horrors have anything to do with actions that stemmed from poor thoughts and mental processes?

As the world slowly raises its collective head to recognise the climate technological challenges that loom large across every nation, human rights issues become ever more prevalent. No more so than with the movement of Asylum seekers and refugees. But the current situation may be no more than the tip of an iceberg when the scale of population movement caused by climate change begins to take effect.

World Mental Health Day may present an opportunity to consider whether individuals in this global population have the mental health to find a way through the existential challenges that lie before us in the remainder of this defining century. The British Psychological Society, through its Human Rights Advisory Group, recognise these challenges and is putting its professional expertise to work to introduce practises across the psychological profession that have a human rights-based approach running through everything it does, like a golden thread. It is also engaged with the Scottish Government on the Scottish Human Rights Bill consultation, to see human rights through a psychological lens.

But this is not a day for agencies, corporations or governmental administrations. Mental health will always be the concern of each and every human being. The World Health Organisation (2019) report that the burden of deaths and disability caused by neurological disorders is increasingly being recognized as a global public health challenge, there may never be a better time to consider one’s own mental health and the risk of taking no action to care for it. A visit to a local gym will show the value people place upon maintaining physical wellbeing, but contrast that observation with how many give consideration to their mental well-being and the cost of not attending to it.

Let this day of recognition be one of individual action, prompted by the thought that the dawn of every new day heralds the human right to mental health and wellbeing.

This blog represents the views of individual members of the BPS's Human Rights Advisory Group.

You can learn more about the BPS Human Rights Advisory Group on their website. You may also be interested in reading the BPS special issue on Psychology and Human Rights.


Dr Clara Calia- PhD, DClinPsy. Clara is working as a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology on the Clinical Doctorate in psychology at the University of Edinburgh (UK) and as a member of the anti-racism group in the Clinical Doctorate in the UK and the Human Rights Consultant group of the British Psychology Society (BPS). Social justice is the main drive of her research and clinical work, by promoting principles of equity, ethics, participation, dialogue with culturally diverse populations, and those at risk of social injustice. Clara’s main research interests are in the areas of Cross- cultural Neuropsychology, Global mental Health and Ethics in clinical and global research.

Penny Catterick. An explorer of this ephemeral life, with 43 years in global corporate business, academic studies at Newcastle, Cranfield, Barcelona and Northumbria universities. At 65yrs, now a gorgeous transgender woman, I'm beginning an exploration of psychology; forever curious about human kind's relationship with nature and itself.

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