World Mental Health Day: Mental Health is a Universal Human Right

By USCRI October 10, 2023

World Mental Health Day: Mental Health is a Universal Human Right

By: Rosalind Ghafar Rogers, PhD, LMHC, Clinical Behavioral Health Subject Matter Expert with USCRI’s Refugee Health Services in Arlington, VA


In recognition of World Mental Health Day and in support of 2023’s theme, Mental Health is a Universal Human Right, USCRI joins governments, organizations, stakeholders, and global citizens to improve knowledge, raise awareness, and engage in actions that protect and promote refugees’ mental health and well-being as a universal human right.


Refugees from all over the world flee their homelands and endure dangerous circumstances, extremely stressful challenges, and many losses and hardships in hope of a future for them and their families and a safe place of refuge where they may build a new life and community. The impact of these hardships and challenges can last for years, and naturally have a serious impact on all aspects of refugees’ lives, including their mental health and well-being. As a result, about one out of three refugees experience significant suffering and distress related to their mental health, which can negatively impact their physical health, general well-being, relationships, and livelihoods (Turrini et al., 2017).


What is Mental Health?

Mental health is an essential component of health and well-being that supports our abilities to make decisions, build relationships, learn well and be productive, adapt to change and cope with challenges, and contribute to our community. Mental health is a basic human right that includes emotional, mental, and social well-being. Mental health affects the way we think, feel, act, make choices, and relate to others.

Mental health is more than the absence of illness. Just like physical health, mental health exists on a continuum from healthy functioning with no distress to mental health conditions characterized by significant changes in thinking, feeling, and/or behavior with elevated distress and problems functioning in family, work, or social activities. Mental health conditions are fairly common, but people do not like to talk about them due to fears that cause people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. A mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a health issue, just like cancer, arthritis, or diabetes, and it is treatable. So why does society look at those with mental health conditions negatively? Why do so many who experience mental health conditions suffer silently? The answer is stigma.


What is stigma?

When people who experience mental health issues are viewed or view themselves in a negative light, this is due to stigma. Mental health stigma refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes that society holds about individuals who experience mental health conditions (NAMI, 2023). Stigma can show up in different ways, such as:

  • Public perception: Negative attitudes lead to misconceptions about mental health conditions, viewing them as personal weaknesses, character flaws, or a curse, rather than legitimate medical conditions (NAMI, 2023).
  • Labeling: People with mental health conditions may be unfairly labeled solely by their condition. For example, being labeled “crazy,” “weak minded,” or “dangerous.”
  • Self-stigma: People who experience mental health conditions may believe the negative perceptions and beliefs held by society, leading to isolation or reluctance to talk about their problems or seek help from loved ones or professionals. For example, “What will people think?” is a common fear that prevents people from asking for help.


Stigma affects people’s well-being, making them feel alone, damaged, and hopeless. Many people with mental health issues do not feel comfortable sharing their suffering with others out of fear of being harshly judged. For some refugees, talking about mental health issues or seeking help for them may go against their cultural values of strong family, emotional restraint, and avoiding shame. Many do not ask for help, so their situation worsens.

No matter how resilient and how many persevere despite the odds, there is nothing easy about being a refugee. Refugees go through extraordinary experiences that often exceed the threshold of human capacity, and are therefore at a higher risk for suffering, mental health issues, and other health-related problems. All people, including refugees, with mental health issues need understanding, compassion, love, and support. Let’s make life easier by opening our hearts and minds, talking about our struggles, and helping one another.


When it is shared, it is less of a burden- Arab proverb


If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or would like emotional support, call or text 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that is available 24/7. If you or someone you know is having a life-threatening emergency, please call 911.


For resources or more information about USCRI’s Refugee Health Services program for resettled Afghans, please visit: https://refugees.org/the-behavioral-health-support-program-for-afghans/



NAMI. (2023). What is Stigma? Retrieved from https://nami.org/Get-Involved/Pledge-to-Be-StigmaFree?gad_source=1&gclid=Cj0KCQjwpompBhDZARIsAFD_Fp86_rksV7y32mMTHhQaZik8diybAke6-GM3YWGY9_N1u8AiphrUUGUaAknLEALw_wcB

Turrini, G., Purgato, M., Ballette, F., Nose, M., Ostuzzi, G., & Barbui, C. (2017). Common mental disorders in asylum seekers and refugees: umbrella review of prevalence and intervention studies. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 11, 51.

Related Posts

USCRI Know Your Rights: A...

Regardless of immigration status, all individuals in the United States have guaranteed rights under the Constitution. The following guide is...


Mahbouba Seraj visits USCRI Cleveland

Earlier this month, USCRI Cleveland had the honor of hosting an event with Ms. Mahbouba Seraj, a leader in advocating...


Policy Report: Afghan Family Reunification

Two and a half years ago, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan separated countless Afghan families. Amid a rapid and frenetic...