By Sara Tofiq (Guest Writer)

“World Mental Health Day is the annual global celebration of mental health education, awareness and advocacy”. And this year’s world mental health day is on Dignity. Dignity, simply put, is the state of being worthy of respect and honour. Potential service users may feel that their sense of dignity is lost during the experience of a psychological disorder. This could be due to how they are perceived by their peers or how they are treated by professionals.

Focusing on the latter, mental health workers such as psychiatrists, may find themselves absorbed in the medical model of psychological/psychiatric illnesses. They are treating the illness as an object, and leaving any regards of respect to the service user to dissipate. From this, a service user may feel that they are not given the equal amount of respect as someone who does not have a mental illness which then leads to a lack of trust and faith in the professionals as well as the system overall.

A further issue which adds to the impression of a loss of dignity in mental health services is the lack of concentration on preventative measures. To make things more clear, think about a service user who has mental disorder and the clinician believes that ‘sectioning’ (the act of forcing someone to a psychiatric hospital in accordance with a section of the Mental Health Act- legal in the UK) will reduce the problems of this service user so that by the end of their ‘compulsory detention’, they will be out and ‘cured’ from their mental illness. This may not always be the best/appropriate option. Sometimes people are sectioned based on stereotypes of the background they are from. For example, in the UK, detentions are over six times more likely to be comprised of Black people than of White (Audini & Lelliott, 2002).

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In turn this can lead to further stigma to build up which would discourage others from seeking help for fear of being sectioned. In practice, compulsory detention in the form of sectioning can lead to feelings of despair, powerlessness and most importantly… a loss of dignity. It is important for clinicians to take into account that there is a human being suffering from poor mental health. Everything must be done to ensure that the best and most appropriate possible form of treatment is provided.

Moreover, the way in which a person’s social circle may behave towards, and think about mental illness can be destructive and hurtful. A person’s dignity may rapidly dissipate due to ignorance, lack of awareness, and a lack of understanding of mental health. For example, if a person, who has a constant internal battle with their mental health, is faced with external difficulties such as tackling the stigma, they are inevitably going to feel crushed, reduced and hopeless. Immediately their sense of dignity is lost. Many of us may relate to this.

I, for one, knew someone who was surrounded by the notion that mental illness is a ‘weakness’ and was told ‘you are not strong enough if you break down’.

This led to that person bottling up most of their feelings and being in denial about their mental state. They were unwilling to seek any form of help out of fear of being labelled and treated differently if anyone found out about how they were feeling. Often it is common practice to find people in denial about their own mental health. And indeed this can be further harmful. It may be that they feel that the suppression of their thoughts is the answer and thus will be more reluctant to get help. Consequently, we can all be a part of the solution which will move things forward in a positive direction. That is by educating ourselves on mental health, talking about mental health in our social circles and being there for one another in times of need. These small steps will slowly but surely make a big positive impact which will reduce the negative stigma around mental health.

Sources:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/20/part/II/crossheading/procedure-for-hospital-admission

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/180/3/222.short

Editor’s Note: If you happen to be suffering from poor mental health, do contact these services for support and guidance:

  1. UCLU Psychological Services: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/student-psychological-services/index_home
  2. Nightline (Listening Service): http://nightline.org.uk/
  3. Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/branches/central-london-samaritans
  4. UCLU Students For Students Peer Support Group: http://uclu.org/whats-on/meetings/students-for-students-peer-support-group
  5. GP services: http://www.gowerstreetpractice.org.uk/
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