Mental Health is a Universal Human Right

World Mental Health Day (WMHD), observed each year on October 10th, aims to “promote the advancement of mental health awareness, prevention of mental disorders, advocacy, and best practice recovery focused interventions worldwide.” 1

The theme for this year’s WMHD is “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right.” In observance, we are pleased to share exemplars of the important work taking place in our department to advance access to care, advocate for policy changes, and share interventions across the world and across our local communities.

We asked several of our faculty involved in related work what this year’s WMHD theme means to them. Read what they have to say and learn more about their work below.

listed alphabetically

Steven Adelsheim, MD

"For me, ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’ means addressing the reality that half of all mental health issues start by the age of 14. Therefore, we must urgently prioritize meeting the needs of our youth for resiliency skills as well as early recognition and intervention for their mental health problems, with a focus on those from marginalized groups and communities."

Rania Awaad, MD

"When I hear the phrase 'Mental Health is a Universal Human Right' I immediately think about access to care. Not just financial and geographical access- but equally important is representation. If we take the example of faith communities, this means mental health care that is spiritually congruent and delivered at the hands of qualified practitioners who make mental health care more accessible via their cultural humility and respect for faith and spirituality."

Kate Hardy, ClinPsychD

"This year's theme highlights the critical importance of access to mental health care for all individuals regardless of geography, resources, and cultural background. This includes raising awareness, reducing stigma, increasing access to care, and ensuring no one is left behind in this endeavor. It is about recognizing that mental health equates to mental wellbeing, understanding the multitude of diverse factors that impact the mental wellbeing of individuals across the globe, and committing to action to address these factors and the impact these have on individuals, families, and communities."

Keith Humphreys, PhD

"The world must recognize that mental health is an essential part of individual, family, and community health."

Dr. Humphreys is the Chair of the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis. He researches individual and societal level interventions for addictive and psychiatric disorders, focusing particularly on evaluating the outcomes of professionally administered treatments and peer-operated self-help groups, and, analyzing the impact of public policies touching addiction, mental health, public health, and public safety.

The Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis

Shashank V. Joshi, MD

"Mental health is part of overall health. In the work I do in the University as Senior Associate Vice Provost for Academic Wellbeing, I bring the message that we have been engaging K-12 school districts with, which is that mental health is part of overall health, and our students have to be healthy enough to learn, and our teachers and academic staff have to be healthy enough and versatile enough to reach and teach each and every student. That means we need to bring them tools so that they can open the door to conversations about mental health, way before there’s a crisis."

Dr. Joshi is a Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Education, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Academic Wellbeing in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) at Stanford University, and Director of School Mental Health Services at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. Dr. Joshi’s scholarly work focuses on school mental health, suicide prevention in school settings, cultural aspects of pediatric health, doctor-parent-teacher collaboration in medical care, and wellbeing promotion in youth and young adults.  

Examples of recent projects and programs include:


Christina Khan, MD, PhD

"Mental health is the foundation of health. Without adequate attention to mental health and well-being, we are guaranteeing the emergence of health disparities among those who are underserved. It is imperative to ensure this basic and universal human right is protected for every being on this planet."

Ryan Matlow, PhD

"Just as access to physical safety, freedom of thought, and opportunities for work and education are considered universal human rights, mental health is an essential component of well-being that shapes our progress as individuals and as a society. Highlighting mental health as a universal human right provides important recognition for the psychological impacts of the various human rights violations and systemic inequities that we continue to face as a global society."

Daryn Reicherter, MD

"I was recently in Geneva at the United Nations, advocating that survivors of war crimes should have the right to psychological health interventions. That may be slightly different from "Mental Health is a Universal Human Right" - but believe me … one step at a time."

General Psychiatry Residency Program

Our psychiatry program has been a huge supporter of global mental health initiatives and, with the tremendous support of Stanford's Center for Innovation in Global Health, the program has been able to send many residents abroad over the past several years. 

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"Our department represents a community of people who share a sense of purpose and who demonstrate deep regard for the dignity and rights of all.

We advocate for access to mental healthcare as a basic human right – mental illnesses do exist, people with these illnesses do suffer, and they have a right to treatment."

Dr. Laura Roberts
Chair and Katharine Dexter McCormick and Stanley McCormick Memorial Professor