As October slowly comes to an end, we can most certainly say that there is a lot more to “dignity” in mental health than what we once thought. Whether it’s through the way we physically respond to sufferers, or the way we differentiate between those in society, the most important thing that has been highlighted this month is that Allah has created us with dignity, and that gives us every right to remain dignified. Regardless of our mental and physical state. We’ve established the meaning of dignity, we’ve discovered the relationship between dignity and mental health, and last week we focused on the importance of treating those with mental health problems with dignity – but how do we do this?
It may seem self-explanatory, i.e. in order to help someone with a mental health problem, with dignity, you have to listen, give them time, be kind, and be patient etc, but that’s all a little bit cliché, isn’t it? It’s actually a little bit more complex than what we think. How often do we listen, give time, etc but in the back of our minds we’re still thinking, “Is this true? Does this even exist? Why don’t I experience it? Get real!”. These thoughts don’t just stay in the back of our minds either, they somehow creep their way to our faces and our expressions say it all. Our dipped eyebrows, tight lips and overly concerned eyes no longer have their sincerity, and it becomes obvious to the one receiving our “attention”. This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. These thoughts might not occur because of culture, tradition and ignorance – rather because, we’ve lost a very important human character trait. We’ve lost empathy. We don’t have the ability to empathise, but we are pro’s to sympathise.
Just think for a second, when you’re going through a really rough time, and you’re sick of people looking at you differently and making you feel like an alien, would you want someone to feel sorry for you, or someone that attempts to share and understand your pain? We’ve hit the nail on the head. Respecting and honouring someone’s dignity is not achieved through “oh, you must be having a really hard time. Better days are to come”, it’s succeeded through, “I can only imagine what you’re going through, but I can see that it’s hard. I’ll never understand truly what it feels like, but it must be suffocating, right?”. Instead of burying someone with artificial ‘positivity’ and ‘optimism’, be real with them, I’m sure they would appreciate someone that is willing to take baby steps with them instead of sprinting ahead while they slug behind. There is also another classic approach, the prying, the constant questions, and the unnecessary checking up on. Does it even make sense to interrupt a person who has been longing to get something off their chest with “so, like… what does it feel like?”, or “man, are you sure you’re okay? You know, you don’t have to carry on, but are you okay?”, and the favourite, “so, when did this happen? Is that when this happened? Or did it happen because of this?” – just chill! Let the person come out with it all, then carefully think about your questions, don’t overwhelm someone who is already overwhelmed with their own questions and distorted thoughts. Remember, you’re not the one that is asking for help – hence why empathy is so important.
From my own experiences and observations, there is this ‘unofficial’ script that is said robotically to anyone who simply wants to talk, who simply wants a pair of real ears that are actually hearing what is being said rather than listening out for key words to match for a response, and the chances are, that person just wants someone to hear their silent screams. Any good doctor will tell you that even if someone receives counselling, advising, medication, social support and the best of every service out there – without dignity, respect and empathy, they are truly meaningless. As a basic human need, we want to be understood – so why is it so difficult to make that attempt with someone who has a mental health problem?
Having a mental health problem does not take away your dignity, your respect or honour. You deserve to be understood, cared for and apart of society as much as anyone else. Having a mental health problem does not take away your dignity, your respect or honour. It only adds substance to which you really are, the survivor that you are. Having a mental health problem does not take away your dignity, your respect or honour; but it makes you noble, inspirational and strong.
As always, keep your goal in focus. No matter how foggy it gets, just remember your ultimate goal.
“And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow…”