Dignity in Mental Health


By Betty Ong

The theme for World Mental Health 2015 is, “Dignity in Mental Health”. To me it emphasises that all of us need to embrace and foster mental health to keep us all human and alive.

To look at mental health we need to look closely at enduring attributes / personal moral qualities – empathy, attachment and relationships. What transforms people in life are love and caring relationships. Everyone has a right to this secure attachment.

There is only one group of membership which everybody shares in this world. That is, human. So everyone has a right to Dignity in Mental Health.

Reflect on this quote:

“I never have thought my true grit would be the best without my loving family backing me all the way” – E.J. Soo.

The quote is apparently a tribute from Nicol David to her parents. Yes, Nicol David, Malaysia’s very own squash queen. When I read that I was enthralled. What better way than this to drive home the message that Mental Health is a dignified magical gift. Give this quote a moment’s thought and allow it it’s fullest meaning. For then you will surely savour the dignity and the meaning of Mental Health.

The message is beautifully clear. There is respect and love for her parents. There is that pride, confidence and humility in herself. The halo over her reflects a person with character, courage, wisdom, humility and understanding – all enduring attributes / personal morals. Undoubtedly there are lots of reciprocal enduring attributes between daughter and parents. Great daughter! Great Parents!

Sportsperson aside, there is this young boy I had the delight to meet at a mall. We were in a queue – waiting to clear our bill. I can vouch he will grow up to be a dignified young man. In just a short span of time with him, his enduring attributes shone right through. He spoke in an assured tone, kept good eye contact and respectfully listened when spoken to.

I shared my thoughts with his mother who was in front of him.

“What a fine young man your son is,” I said.

“He makes me really proud of him,” she replied.

That says it all – the dignity in Mental Health and our social, intellectual and emotional strengths at the maximum.

Now reflect on this quote:

“I am not a diagnosis; I am a human being with a story some good, some bad experiences, feelings, strengths, and vulnerabilities”– Alison Faulkner.

This person is afflicted with chronic mental illness. Irrespective of the degree of pathology (that is psychosocial disabilities/disadvantages) it must be remembered that she still has her residual strengths –an ability, interest and skill which she has previously used. The well-part of her ego is always intact. She can still learn given the right environment.

People with chronic mental illness have lost close contacts and intimate relationships in the course of their illness. They do long for a caring and loving relationship. They still do have aspirations for an optimal normal life: meaningful work, adequate education and social intimate relationships.

Community should avoid portraying them as being the primary cause of violent behaviour with the corollary that they are always violent. This is what Banes calls the process of “mentalism” in which a person’s feelings are invalidated by being labelled as ‘sick” and are viewed as ‘sick’, incapable and irresponsible forever.

Community should regard people with chronic mental illness as fellow human beings.

Community needs to uphold the appropriate Concept of Recovery. Recovery should be linked with the belief that they have the abilities and potentials. That they have the urge for a greater degree of independence and the desire for self-determined integration. Their goal is to enhance their residual strengths – social, intellectual and emotional skills so as to live at the highest level possible of functioning. Yes, they do have aspirations.

As a community we need to offer them the full support and encouragement. We must mirror this belief. Doing so will enable them to make optimal use of their remaining areas of health and competence.

Community must respect the people with chronic mental illness as humans. There is no such thing as a “them and us”. We are all of one membership in this world – human.

We all are entitled to the dignity in humanity – the dignity in Mental Health.

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