It begins with DIGNITYby Meneika Chandler, LPC on 02/21/21
One of the goals I have had since starting Peaceable Life was to write a blog that would provide resources, explanation, strategies, tools, “food for thought,” and opportunities for conversation. These would be related to mental health, parenting, developmental disabilities, wellness, and many other very important things that I see people facing in my role as a therapist and a behaviorist.
I have worked in various settings and with a wide range of clientele over the last 21 years, beginning with adults with developmental disabilities and complex mental health and behavioral challenges, and leading in the last 6 years to mental health counseling as a resident and then as a licensed professional counselor. The one continual observation I have had throughout these last 21 years is that THE NEED IS GREAT!
--The need is great for available support and services.
--The need is great for mental health awareness and understanding in the support to those with developmental disabilities.
--The need is great for well-trained and competent providers of services.
--The need is great for funding resources so that people can afford and access mental and behavioral health support.
--The need is great for education about mental health….
…education for the person who is living with it
…education for the person who is supporting them
…education for the person in the community who makes judgement about them
…education for the person who is assigned to assist them but doesn’t understand their needs
…education for the person who is the professional “expert” but doesn’t listen
…education for the person who responds to the crisis and escalates it rather than de-escalates it
…education, education, education!
There are so many more needs, the list can go on forever.
In thinking of where to begin with this blog in a way that would represent my hope for its impact on individuals, there really is only one place it can begin and that is with DIGNITY.
Dignity by definition generally means “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect” (Google Dictionary). Often, we assign conditions to concepts such as this. For example, “I will respect you when you act right,” or “You need to prove yourself worthy” (think Thor’s hammer, here).
The problem with defining a concept is that we attach words to explain it that, in themselves, unintentionally change the interpretation. And then, because these defining words have systemic expectations and conditions attached, we measure ourselves against those expectations and conditions. Follow this thought process, "I struggle with this, so I am not worthy. I don't always make the right decision so I am not respectable. If I am not worthy, if I am not respectable, then I do not have the right to be treated with dignity."
In truth, the right to be treated with dignity is not conditional. It is not based on what you do for me or whether you accomplish something or what you contribute. Being treated with dignity is a basic human right, because each individual person is important, valuable, and worthy because they are here. Being worthy of dignity is not measured by the expectations of others. Being worthy of dignity as an individual person with your own individual thoughts and experiences and feelings and needs and concerns and struggles and victories and hopes and fears is your humanness and cannot be measured. It is founded in the understanding that there has never been, is not now, and never will be another person like you and therefore you have value. You are one of a kind! You cannot be replaced! Your absence would be missed!
The basic belief that all people, regardless of their challenges (or even the things they have done to others) deserve to be treated with dignity as a human right is foundational if we are going to be able to evolve in the world mental and behavioral health. It is also hard, and I want to acknowledge this here as well. If this blog is to be useful and open up opportunities for conversation, then I also have to voice the challenges with any topic that I present. How does a person who has committed great harm to others deserve dignity?
This is where I return to the difficulty with definition of a concept. By definition, a person who has done horrible things has not earned respect, with respect being defined as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements” (Google Dictionary). How can you respect a person who would hurt others on purpose? After all, that person is not honoring the dignity of the person they have harmed, it can’t be one sided.
This leads to other concepts, such as accountability and the potential for both good and bad, right and wrong. I will address these more in other blogs. But for the purposes of introducing the concept of dignity as a basic human right, it is important to note that dignity does not eliminate accountability. People should be accountable for their actions. There is no personal growth without personal accountability. But in the application of accountability, consideration must also be given to the basic right of human dignity. Consider here humane treatment of prisoners, some who are mentally ill, who have committed crimes.
Dignity in care, treatment, education, services, support, resources, emergency response, institutionalization, and every area that touches those with mental health, behavioral health, substance use, and developmental challenges is a human right. I must embrace this as indisputable if I am to meet the needs or make an impact on the needs of others. As I continue forward posting blogs, I hope to touch on important ways that we can show dignity to others, such as with the language we use and the things we support.
Maybe we can speak a little kinder to our children?
Maybe we can withhold judgement on someone we think doesn’t seem to be “adulting” well?
Maybe we could give ourselves some quiet time when we are feeling overwhelmed?
Maybe we could consider exploring therapy and sharing our hurts?
My wish is that as you consider DIGNITY as a human right that you and everyone share, it leads to thoughts and discussions and exploration and evolution into the world of hope and healing.
by Meneika Chandler, LPC