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Dignity in mental health

people's faces

Today is World Mental Health Day and the theme is ‘dignity in mental health’. My dictionary defines dignity as ‘the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect’. For many people with mental health issues, to feel worthy of any positive regard is an alien concept. The same can be said for our often-forgotten carers and the mental health professionals who are expected to care for us with ever diminishing resources. But what would dignity look like for me, as an individual living with depression and anxiety?

I’d like to be seen as a whole person. I’m not just a chemical imbalance or a litany of unhelpful behaviours. I have hopes and dreams as well as fears and nightmares. See my courage, understand why I do the things I do. I’m not acting up, I’m not attention-seeking. I’m just in a lot of pain and I don’t always know what to do with it. See my talents, my passions – the things that will help me recover and gain some self-esteem.

Dignity means that when I talk about my mental health issues – or when I’m in the midst of a relapse - people show me that they have empathy. Let me know that I’ve been heard. Believe me. You might have to tell me things that are difficult to hear, but never forget that the hardest news can be tolerated when told with kindness. Underneath all this mess there’s someone who desperately wants to recover. I know it can take time for me to form sentences but please give me that time and don’t assume that slow output equals slow input. I hear you. I understand. I’m ill, things are hard, but I’m still an intelligent human being with ideas, opinions, thoughts and feelings. Please remember to treat me as such. I am someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s friend. How would you want others to treat your daughter or mother or sister, if she were in my shoes?

To mental health professionals, you know my darkest secrets, the things that scare me the most. Despite the distress I talk about, I need you to be calm, to show me understanding. I need to see that you still have hope, still have faith in me even when I have none left for myself. Please let me see that you care – about the work you do and the person in front of you. Being cared for terrifies me – it’s not my default setting, not how things have always been for me – but I still need to know that you do.

Someone once said to me “I want to get you to a place where you can care for yourself, but until then I’ll do it for you”. In that one sentence I was accepted for who I am right now. I was given hope for who I might be in the future. I was made to feel like I was worth fighting for. That’s what dignity means to me.

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