World Mental Health Day 2015

Dignity in Mental Health

Dignity in Mental Health

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day – to be observed on 10th October – is ‘Dignity in Mental Health’.

At a time when people in several parts of the world have been subjected to appalling human rights violations, most recently in Syria, this is a timely theme.  For an individual with mental illness to have to grapple with stigma and discrimination is like a double whammy; something that can further worsen the pre-existing illness.  The same holds good for the family caring for an individual with mental illness.


It all began on 10th October 1992, when the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), based in the USA, decided to observe the Mental Health Day as a part of its annual activity.  Since then, the event has grown and spread across the world and has been accepted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a day of celebration of mental health education, awareness and advocacy.

What is dignity?

Mental illness, one has to remember, is a broad category under which many ailments, some of which are minor and transitory are included.  Therefore, one visit to a mental health professional does not indicate that the patient is ‘mental’ for life.  Besides, there is no such thing as an entirely normal mental state, with most of us experiencing some form of distressing thoughts and experiences at some point during our lifetimes.  However, despite this an attitude of lack of dignity towards people with mental illness is commonly encountered.  We can understand dignity better by noting what contributes to indignity in mental health care.

Stigma:  One of the biggest challenges that individuals with mental illness and their families face comes from within the society itself.  Derogatory comments, blaming, victimising and ostracising the person and his or her family are all too common.  Unfortunately, stigma is rampant even among educated professionals.

Institutionalisation:  Gone are the days when people with enduring mental illnesses were locked up in asylums endlessly.  Nowadays, it is all about community care and integration.  It is about ensuring that the person with mental illness lives with his or her family wherever possible and participates in all the daily activities that a person without mental illness has access to.  Community mental health teams are the norm these days and professionals such as community nurses and mental health social workers are much in demand to impart treatment within the community.  Studies have also shown that living in a caring environment and participating in community activities has a positive impact on the mental health of the patient.

Abuse:  It is a fact that some form of abuse – physical, sexual or emotional – exists within institutions caring for people with mental illness.  This is more prevalent in those places that cater to the needs of children, disabled, mentally retarded and the elderly.

Exclusion: Mentally ill people are often excluded from decision making about their own healthcare and future policy-making by health care institutions.  Barring instances wherein the person’s mental capacity to make a sound decision is hampered – such as in those with several mental retardation – individuals with mental illness should have full say in matters relating to their treatment, hospitalisation, home care and community participation.

How is dignity in mental healthcare maintained?

According to the WHO, ‘Being able to live a life with dignity stems from the respect of basic human rights including:

  • Freedom from violence and abuse
  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Autonomy and self-determination
  • Inclusion in community life
  • Participation in policy-making’

Accordingly, state mental health policies should take into consideration the above points to uphold the dignity of individuals with mental illness.

What can you do?

  • Stop stigmatising: Keep an open mind and treat individuals with mental illness and their families with respect.
  • Do not patronize: Treat them equally, do not sympathise, but try to empathise – that is try to understand from their point of view what it is to be mentally ill.
  • Provide support: At the very least, you can direct mentally ill people and their carers to appropriate mental health services.
  • Call for help: If you come across a mentally ill person on the road, call for help; inform the nearest police station or the person’s family, so that the person can be taken to a safe place.
  • Get involved: There are a number of NGOs dealing with mental health issues; volunteer to be an advocate for a mentally ill or retarded person.
  • Spread the word: Access the WFMH website and download the helpful brochure on World Mental Health Day 2015.


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