It is a cliché to say that we live in changing times, almost as
bad as saying we live in interesting times. Both are usually
followed by some expression of regret for the past, when things
But actually the past was not always better, indeed most of the
time it was far worse. Imagine a life without cash machines,
central heating or mobile phones. OK, perhaps mobile phones are not
a pure blessing. But to be serious, so many aspects of our
lives are better than even in recent memory, let alone in other
centuries. As Steven Pinker memorably showed in “The Better Angels
of Our Nature”, there has been a progressive decrease, not
increase, in violence, killing and cruelty over the centuries. And
accompanying this has also been a rise in tolerance of difference
and disability. Physical imperfections are much more accepted and
those bearing wounds, blemishes or obvious illnesses are encouraged
not to feel embarrassed, awkward or unaccepted. We are increasingly
judged on our abilities rather than disabilities, and barriers to
social inclusion for many are reducing or even disappearing. But,
and you knew there was going to be a but - just as you have already
guessed where this is going -many people who suffer from mental ill
health are still subjected to the intolerances and indignities
borne of and fostered by ignorance.
Today we support World Mental Health Day and this year the theme
of the day is Dignity – a word that stems from the Latin
Easily violated, human dignity is complex. It is dependent upon
our fundamental human rights being conferred upon us: the right to
be spoken to with respect, the right to be clean, the right to make
decisions, be spoken to politely, to live pain-free, eat nutritious
and tasty food, the right to privacy and to social inclusion, and
the right to independence.
Our human rights are integral to our dignity.
Human dignity is also much more than the sum of its parts. Take
away just one of our basic rights and we begin to lose our dignity.
Take away more than this and we are stripped of pride, self-respect
Poor physical health is often obvious, mental ill health less
so. To the casual observer it can be invisible, but to the sufferer
it can be devastating. It is not true that all of us will develop
mental disorder, and nor is It true that we are all equally at
risk, but it is true that it might happen to any of us.
Today is not just about giving back dignity to people with
mental ill health, it is also about ensuring we don’t take it away
from anyone else.
If you are reading this, you are already visiting our website.
Please stay and browse a little. Take a look at our Twitter feed
today to see what our friends are saying, read some of the stories
of people whose lives have been touched by mental ill health and
how psychiatry has helped them, and like us on Facebook, even if I
am not quite sure what that means. It doesn’t matter how you
manage it, but try to find some time today to lend your support to
World Mental Health Day. And remember, you don’t have to wait
another year before doing something else to support or help those
with mental health problems.
Simon Wessely, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
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