World Mental Health DayThis past weekend, many of us celebrated World Mental Health Day. The theme for this year’s observation was “Dignity in Mental Health.” It is a particularly appropriate reminder to professionals, families, and communities to treat those with a mental illness in a humane and respectful manner.

“Dignity” is a term that refers to the inherent value of the individual, and is associated with a sense of self-worth and the respect of others. Now is a good time to reflect on what being treated with a sense of dignity truly means.

The World Health Organization suggests that the ability to life a life with dignity comes from having one’s basic human rights respected, including:

    • Freedom from abuse or violence;
    • Freedom from discrimination;
    • Self-determination;
    • Inclusion in the life of the community; and
    • The ability to participate in policy-making.

The right to freedom from abuse can occur if individuals are treated inhumanely in psychiatric settings, for example. Many people with a mental illness are served in jail or prison settings, rather than hospitals or community settings. Involuntary service commitments or financial guardianship can take away the right to self-determination. Many mental health patients are not given the opportunity to interact with others in the community, or to even vote, much less participate in decision-making in their cities or states.

How can we make a difference? The World Health Organization offers several recommendations, including:

    • Providing services based in the community, using a recovery approach to treatment;
    • Respecting people’s rights to make their own decisions;
    • Ensuring access to quality care;
    • Supporting people with mental health problems to participate in the life of the community; e.g., church, employment, recreation;
    • Ensure access to opportunities in the community for education, employment, housing, etc.;
    • Involve people in decision-making on issues that affect them, including mental health care.

As individuals, the single most important thing that each of us can do is to acknowledge the humanity of those with mental illness and treat them with all the dignity and respect we would want bestowed upon a loved one.

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