Universal human rights are rights that everyone has by virtue of being human. This is regardless of background, identity or characteristics. Universal human rights centre on the idea that there is a minimum standard for how everyone should be treated to allow them both to survive and flourish. They are often linked to the values of fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy.
Mental health as a universal human right is defined as “Everyone, whoever and wherever they are, has a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health” (World Health Organisation, 2023). This means that all people are entitled to protection from risks to their mental health, as well as access to support for their mental health and wellbeing when needed.
For organisations adopting a human rights and equalities first approach, there are many ways that this right can be considered when planning and evaluating their organisational development and delivery. That is because this right connects to third sector organisations in a number of ways.
Perhaps the most obvious is the support being given to the organisation’s beneficiaries. This does not need to be directly focused on mental health and wellbeing to support this right. For instance, a local sports club provides both access to community and an opportunity for physical exercise, both of which are key for maintaining personal wellbeing. Likewise, an organisation offering financial advice reduces the impact of a key stressor that acts as a large risk to people’s mental health.
However, this right shouldn’t only be considered when thinking about services and beneficiaries. Third sector organisations have a key role to play in supporting the right to mental health of everyone they interact with. This includes volunteers, staff members, members of the local community and anyone else linked to their work, as well as beneficiaries.
There is much that can be done to support each of these groups, and we have used the PANEL approach to outline a few examples:
- Participation – are decisions being made for people or with people? Are individuals able to identify risks to their mental health and address them in a safe and supported space? This could take the form of regular focused feedback surveys for anonymity, or employee resource groups for in depth analysis.
- Accountability – Does the organisation regularly evaluate how it’s policies and practices may impact staff, volunteers and beneficiaries’ wellbeing? Are there clear feedback mechanisms in place? This could involve regular policy audits or wellbeing assessments.
- Non-discrimination – Are barriers to accessing the organisation and its services due to poor mental health and wellbeing identified and addressed? Is there flexibility built into how they can experience the organisation based on their needs e.g. flexible working times, different methods of accessing services.
- Empowerment – Do staff, volunteers and beneficiaries often feel that they can enact change within the organisation?
- Legality – Is everyone aware of their obligations towards those experiencing poor mental health or diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition under the Equality Act?
Whilst these are a handful of examples, what it means to account for this right will look different for every organisation. For all organisations, they can actively consider how they support the fulfilment of this right by considering who it is that they’re working with and for, what their risks to maintaining sound mental wellbeing are, and how they can be supported to achieve the best mental wellbeing possible within an environment that prioritises fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy.
For more information on PANEL, download our PANEL guide. If you want to learn more about taking a human rights and equalities first approach, please consider attending our training sessions