Dignity in mental health is the theme for World Mental Health Day 2015, taking place on Saturday 10th October. Many attempts have been made to identify what dignity actually means. However a consensus has never been reached as in reality it means something different to each person. What is important to understand is that by taking away someone’s dignity you undermine what can often already be a fragile sense of self-worth and your actions or simple thoughtlessness could cause a further decline in someone’s wellbeing.
Falkirk Mental Health Involvement Group put together some thoughts on what dignity means to them. Bear these in mind the next time you come across someone who is experiencing poor mental health!
For the group, a key theme to dignity is being treated equally and not being judged: “I am a human being like any other. Have me on an equal footing.”; “Treat me as an equal! And with mutual respect”; “Being free to be yourself—-Don’t judge me”.
The group had very varied experiences of dignity in employment. Sadly, for some, the workplace had been a very negative experience:
“In a previous place of employment a colleague raised the issue it was unfair of management to expect staff to treat me as an equal. This did not just take my dignity away, it made me feel inferior and belittled.”
“In the organisation where I once worked some people did not like being referred to as my colleague, because I had mental health issues.”
“I was refused membership of a group because of my history of mental health issues. I often wondered what perceptions some people have!”
But thankfully others had experienced how it should be in more enlightened workplaces:
“In my last employment I was very much supported when I become unwell. I was treated as an individual. Working arrangements were put in place to accommodate my needs. I was able to maintain my dignity throughout this time. This is how it should be!”
“My employer was very supportive. When I was too ill to travel they came to see me. Arrangements were put in place so I could keep in contact by e-mail. I remember being eternally grateful at the time!”
For Anne her route to dignity was through meaningful work:
“When a doctor tells you that you have a mental illness, it takes you a few days to come to terms with this information and you slip slowly into your shell. Facing people is very difficult — you just want to keep to yourself, afraid to tell anyone you have a mental illness, and your dignity has eroded so much that you feel as if you are totally alone, even in a room full of people. At Caledonia Clubhouse, I was given a T.E.P. which was a cleaning job, not really much of a job you may say but it was enough to get me back into work and the pride in my achievements this gave me. Going home that first night after work the thought came to me that I’m going home on the bus with other people going home from their work and it certainly made me feel good. As time passed and I got more jobs the better I felt and I must say my dignity started to come back because I was fighting my mental illness and it became easier all the time to face people.”
It might be surprising to learn that even family members do not always understand and that their actions, sometimes unthinking, can undermine people’s dignity:
“When I was ill and in hospital my brother refused to come and see me. He was afraid of the stigma and did not want anyone to know.”
“Although I am better now there are still times when I am not allowed to baby sit.”
So what can you do to help people preserve their dignity? Listen to the pleas of our group members and treat people with respect and as individuals. Improve your own understanding of mental health: organisations like FDAMH provide lots of opportunities for learning for individuals and workplaces and our Carers Education Course helps friends and family members develop understanding as well as strategies for coping and moving forwards. And finally, take on board these final thoughts from our group:
“Having mental health issues does not make me a bad person.”
“People are all different so it can only be expected we will suffer from different mental illnesses.”
“Recognise each individual has value and something to offer.”
“If you want to know what a person with mental health issues looks like, look in the mirror! Mental illness affects 1in 4 people so it could be you tomorrow. Mental illness does not discriminate so why should we be discriminated against!”
“We have the right to keep our dignity!”
If you would like to know more about the Falkirk Involvement Group or would be interested in being part of it please contact Linda on 01324 671600 or email Linda. To find out more about training to help you or your workplace please visit our Training Academy, or if you’re caring for a loved one take a look at Family Support.