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Doc Ayomide: Dignity in Mental Health

Doc Ayomide

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“You’ve started again, abi? Your madness has started again.”

Sade stared at her father. “Yes, daddy. I’ve started again. Shey I’m your mad daughter? I’ve started o, you hear? I’ve started!” And she turned around and stormed out, tears streaming down her face.

How dare they try to take away her right to be upset? How dare they?

She pushed the door to her room open, locked it behind her. It wasn’t really her room: she shared it with her younger sister. But Modele was in school, and she was grateful to have it for herself for the moment.
This sucked. She felt like her life sucked. She hadn’t asked to be mentally ill, hadn’t asked for a diagnosis of schizophrenia. She hadn’t chosen to hear voices nobody else could, hadn’t made a life plan that included losing jobs and relationships because of crisis episodes.

She heard a knock on the door.

And she was trying to cope with it all, to chart a path for herself through the unplanned challenges that came with being mentally ill. But when her own family started to bring up her illness every time she raised her voice? No, that was simply too much.

All she had done this morning was get upset with her mum for monitoring her like she was a child. Asking about her medications, checking up with her doctors to know if she went for clinic appointments. And this morning, threatening to stop her from going out when she wanted.

It wasn’t like she didn’t get that it was because they cared, but sometimes it was just too much, and when she got upset they acted like it was normal that at 27 she was still being treated that way. Like she was happy with the way things were.

Like having mental illness meant she had no right to be angry that she had mental illness…
***
Have you ever felt like Sade did? No, I’m not asking if you’re mentally ill, just if you have ever felt the way she did: being treated like your opinion doesn’t count.

If you have, take a moment to imagine what it’s like for a person to be in that headspace for long periods of time, of their life. That’s what people with problems others don’t understand often have to deal with. And yes, that includes people with mental health problems.

It all comes down to the issue of dignity. Or respect. Or self-worth. Dignity means feeling like you mean something, like you matter, and having other people actually treat you like you do. We all want to be treated with dignity — and we deserve to be. It’s such a big part of living meaningfully that people have, in some cases, chosen rather to end their lives than face indignity.

And dignity is the focus for this year’s World Mental Health Day because a mental disorder can often mean people taking over some of your decisions, even if it’s only for a while. Except that “a while” can last way longer than you think it should, and then it’s like they’re basically trying to run your life. (Which, by the way, sucks as you get older.)
For some people living with a mental disorder, Sade’s story is everyday life.

It’s been said: “Symptoms are not a barrier to recovery, but attitude is.” And that’s so true. Our attitudes can easily create bigger problems for people with mental illness than the illness itself does. Imagine how it would feel if you constantly had to prove yourself. If you constantly had to demand respect, when others around you could take it for granted. If you couldn’t even be upset without explanation.

Those are just a few ways dignity can be threatened. I’m sure you can imagine a few more. The point is, the way we treat people matters. And the closer we are to them, the more our attitude matters. And treating people with dignity can make almost as much difference as medical treatment. Maybe even more.

Mental illness is a big enough challenge on its own. Let’s treat people in ways that minimise that and not ways that worsen it. Everyone, without exception, deserves to be treated with dignity.
Do you know someone living with a mental illness? How can you treat them with dignity today?

For more information about how to support people with mental illness, and an approach to mental health first aid, check out this post on my website: docayomide.com/mental-health-first-aid (if the link isn’t showing properly on your device, you can copy and paste it into your browser search bar).

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Wavebreakmedia Ltd 

Dr Ayomide Adebayo is a medical doctor, mind health consultant and founder of Maximise Your LIFE, a community for people who want to live to the full. Grab your copy of his FREE resources here — plus instant access to his potentially life-changing email course!He writes at DocAyomide.com and tweets @DocAyomide. To ask a question, book a session — or just say hello — simply e-mail him ([email protected]).

12 Comments

  1. miini

    October 12, 2015 at 8:47 am

    That there is what is called ‘High Expressed Emotions’ and a MAJOR determinant of recovery of a mentally ill patient.
    When I was doing my clinical experience in psychiatry, HEE was quite annoying to watch. It’s usually metted out by family members coz they are the closest to the patient and responsible for their care, but one thing I also noticed is that these family members are also confused, frustrated, helpless and sometimes don’t even know the impact of their behavior on the patient.
    We are generally in a society where mental health is rarely talked about or taken seriously until sufferers get totally out of hand, and even then, ‘ayepathy’ is often the perceived cause.
    I hope that more awareness and education is raised about this issue, coz it is said that 1 in every 4 persons as a mental health issue.

    • Doc Ayomide

      Doc Ayomide

      October 13, 2015 at 5:27 am

      Miini, you’re right, that’s exactly what it is. However, like you said, family members themselves are often just as confused as anyone else, and they too often need guidance and direction. That’s why I shared the link to the resource on how to offer mental health first aid in moments of crisis, but of course, for those who have loved ones with mental illness, more ongoing support is often necessary.

  2. Bolaji

    October 12, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    thank You Doc Ayo, i recently came back on trip (which every member makes every month, since she’s been admitted) to see a family member who suffers from this, shes getting better, but sometimes, we all get really frustrated on how to take care of her, when she’s off the bend, funny thing she’s of the opinion nothing is wrong with her, so sometimes, we have to monitor her carefully and ensure she’s onher meds, she’s in the clinic now because we gave her the space to be herself and be responsible, that obviously did not work out, she’s all we’ve got and will continue to give her the best treatment and Luv… I have been in a relationship for 2years now, about a month ago, Boo says he’s reconsidering what we have going on because of this family member, he’s not sure if it’s hereditary and he’s not sure he wants to get married to someone who has a family member with this issue, but that lets c how it goes… been Numb for some weeks and facing my job, he carries on like he never said anything…

    • imose

      October 12, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      Oh dear!! What is yours will be yours ! Let him be . Please stay strong for your family . I look forward to more awareness about mental illness in our society.
      Warm hugs?

    • miini

      October 12, 2015 at 5:34 pm

      Hey Bolaji…wnt even say I know what u are going thru coz I don’t, but it sounds rly intense and I can almost feel ur numbness from here.
      God is ur strength and all will be well. And abt boo….whatever is yours is yours and I also know tho that love conquers all. It is well.

    • Doc Ayomide

      Doc Ayomide

      October 13, 2015 at 5:28 am

      Bolaji, I feel your pain. It really is not easy in any part of the world, but in many ways, it’s more challenging here, where attitudes like that of your fiance are unfortunately only too common. In some ways, his reponse is simply a reflection of the general beliefs about mental health and illness.

      In my experience, professional counselling has often proved helpful for couples in similar situations. It helps by providing a safe space to air all the issues at play and get reliable information to guide further decisions. Get in touch with me ([email protected]) to discuss this further.

  3. Deetyn

    October 12, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    @Bolaji… Don’t sweat it, if he’s yours he will stay. Otherwise be glad and thank God this is happening before marriage.
    Mental health issues are complex. God help us

  4. Fabulous B

    October 12, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    True, more education and awareness is needed. The family, friends and neighbours need to be educated ; infact, we all need to schooled. More grease to your elbow, Doc Ayomide.
    @Bollaji, the LORD is your strength. He will confort you and your family. Yoruba’s do say (translated) : those that take care of the sick are greatly affected ie they also need to be taken care of. GOD will lift your burdens and make your family rejoice soon. I feel you love this man. Leave it all to GOD ; man proposes, GOD disposes

  5. Doc Ayomide

    Doc Ayomide

    October 13, 2015 at 5:23 am

    Bolaji, I feel your pain. It’s not easy anywhere, but in many ways, it’s more challenging here, where attitudes like that of your fiance are unfortunately only too common. In some ways, his reponse is simply a reflection of the general beliefs about mental health and illness, but professional counselling has, in my experience, often proved helpful for couples in similar situations. It helps by providing a safe space to air all the issues at play and get reliable information to guide further decisions. Get in touch with me ([email protected]) to discuss this further.

  6. Pep

    October 13, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Awwwh, I just love mental health. Ko easy but I have a soft spot for people suffering from one mental illness or another. People just have to educate themselves in that department. I found out that the stigma about mental illness is even worse among healthcare workers,

  7. Annabella

    November 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Everyone, without exception, deserves to be treated with dignity. This is true. We must learn to treat everyone with dignity. Mental illness is not a curse. This article is great, I learned so many things from it.

  8. M

    December 8, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Kindly check your email Doc Ayomide, i look forward to hearing from you.

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