Dignity in Mental Health

Published: Wednesday 30th September 2015

Professor Brian McKennaThis year the World Federation for Mental Health has chosen ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ as the theme for World Mental Health Day. 'Dignity' is a word that has a number of meanings, but we recognize dignity when we see it, and more importantly, we recognize the lack of it when it’s absent.  Dignity has a special meaning at ACU. It is embedded in our Mission and is how we strive to work, learn and live our lives.

Brian McKenna, Professor of Mental Health Nursing at ACU has a unique perspective of this important issue as practitioner, teacher and researcher. He has provided his insights as to what dignity might mean to people with mental health issues and how it can be supported - though concedes that this is no substitute for hearing the views of those who have lived experience of mental illness.

“Approximately half of the population of Australia will experience mental illness in their lifetime.  Yet it is feared, primarily because it is part of our thinking and emotions; processes hidden deep within the psyche and being of a person,” Professor McKenna said.

“To be mentally ill challenges what it is to be human. There is therefore significant social stigma associated with this fear of mental illness.  Dignity is about acknowledging that mental illness is very much a part of the human experience.  We should acknowledge it, embrace it and support those who experience it.”

While some people experience a one-off episode of mental health difficulties, others may suffer from an enduring mental illness, where periods of wellness may be interspersed with periods of illness.  These people are often the most stigmatized, he said.

“Dignity is about breaking down this stigma and its associated discrimination, and acknowledging the journey of people as they strive towards a life that is full and productive - a life worth living.  This process is referred to as ’recovery’ - making the most of life through its ‘ups and ‘downs’; in times when mental illness is present and times when it is not.  Dignity is about allowing this human journey to unfold."

He says supporting the dignity of people needing mental health care services requires a collaboration where consumers, their carers and practitioners work together and value each others’ expertise.

“As a practitioner, it is about face-to-face engagement with the person in a meaningful and compassionate way, which promotes a culture of hope, autonomy and self-determination through holistic and personalized care.  It is about encouraging people to be involved in their communities and being fully endorsed social citizens.”

He says it is important for ACU to convey this message to students by allowing discussions of mental illness to occur, ideally involving those people who have the lived experience of mental illness.

“ACU has a commitment to working with vulnerable people; of breaking down stigma and discrimination, in this case around mental illness.  ACU embraces a model of working with the community and responding to community need.  It looks at developing partnerships. Dignity for those people who experience mental illness is about acting upon this commitment.”

How you can support dignity and mental wellbeing

  • Attend the video conference
    Ahead of World Mental Health Day, ACU is holding a one-hour video conference on Mental Health Awareness on October 8, facilitated by a professional counsellor from ACCESS EAP.  Learn more about mental health issues and how you can support others by registering to attend the Work-life Balance Seminar – Mental Health Awareness.
  • Learn about the support services available at ACU
    For ACU staff members: ACU staff have free access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is a confidential professional counselling service which operates 24/7.  Staff can contact EAP to discuss any work or personal issues that may be concerning them with a professional counsellor.

    For ACU students: a free student counselling service is available.  Students are able to seek counselling for any concern or life event that adversely affects their wellbeing, it does not need to be directly related to study. To find out more about counselling services, visit the Office of Student Success website, which includes an online counselling booking service for students.
  • Be proactive about wellbeing
    Staff are encouraged to find out about wellbeing workshops which will be held in November, and explore practical strategies for strengthening personal wellbeing all year round.