Dignity in Mental Health – 10 October
World Mental Health Day is always an important day to me, and this year it’s been one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The topic set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is ‘Dignity in Mental Health’.
What does that mean? And how should I choose to write on that topic. In deciding, it’s important to acknowledge that ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ will mean something different depending on where you call home. I live in New Zealand and what ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ is to me will probably be different to you.
What has come to mind is the times when my dignity has not been maintained in either living with my mental illness or being treated for that mental illness. Some of that has been directed to me specifically but other times it has been more of a societal issue. And that’s what I intended to write about today… until today. When I completely changed my mind because of the circumstance I have found myself in.
The term dignity is one of those which we all know but is quite difficult to define. What do we really mean? So to the dictionary, I went;
“The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”
What does that mean? That was the Oxford Dictionary, that which I grew up with. Whether for amusement or clarification, sometimes it pays to take a look at The Urban Dictionary:
“A proper sense of pride and self-respect”
That was one of five definitions offered but is the one I feel most comfortable with. Because it’s about me (or you). It’s about self. That which will give me “a proper sense of pride and self-respect” will give me dignity. It makes sense to me.
Today I found myself in a looming sense of indignity (in terms of my mental health) because I am in a situation where I would have to expose myself more than someone without a mental illness might have to. It was making me feel sick. The more I thought about it, the more a headache came on. Maybe it might seem like no big deal but it is personal and it isn’t going to come easy.
You might be aware that I am currently looking for some alternative accommodation for six months while my current abode is repaired of its earthquake damage. As is becoming a common task, this morning I went to look at a possible flat/apartment. I liked it. Actually I loved it. It would suit me down to the ground. As I left the agent gave me an application form which I would have to send through to her office.
These application forms are worse than applying for a job. Landlords can be exceptionally picky in this city. There is a huge demand for rental accommodation for exactly the reason I’m looking. Earthquake repairs and people who have come to the city to work (on earthquake repairs) who need accommodation.
I know that if I had a job my chances of getting this place would rise substantially. You see, the jobless simply don’t stand a chance. We are an underclass and landlords don’t need to acknowledge that underclass even exist. But mental illness makes it worse.
I haven’t worked since 2010, at which point I had a part-time job for 18 months. Before that, I took nine years to complete a three-year degree. And before that I spent eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I have to go back to 1993 to find when I was employed full-time and actually did something those landlords would consider of note.
To get this flat (I saw today) I have to provide something of an employment history and then I have to provide personal references, separate from employment references. Are they kidding? As I said, I had to give up work years ago and I gave up on having friendships some years ago. They hurt too much. With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) it’s too hard and too painful. I couldn’t do it. I have no one who I could seek a personal reference from. I have no references.
Here’s my point:
There are other people for whom this process will be limiting if not failing. I know that I’m not alone. But for someone with a mental illness, landlords in my city are literally refusing to admit we exist. They simply don’t HAVE to admit I exist because they have plenty of nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s. And those nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s have good personal references too.
My only option is to get down and beg. IF I can possibly find a landlord or agent who will give me even just five minutes to beg they might actually discover… I might not have a job, or steady work record and I might not have upstanding people who know me BUT my mental illness, does not preclude me from being a good, responsible tenant who takes care of their property and pays their rent on time. Hey, they might even find they like me. If they give me a chance.
I am a good person. I will be a good tenant, and actually regardless of my lack of a job my insurance company back me.
But because I have a mental illness I simply don’t exist.
Dignity in Mental Health can be viewed from a perspective of how we are treated by mental health professionals. But it is just important to ask with what dignity are people with mental illnesses treated by society. Do we even exist in the eyes of other facets of society? Do we have to get down on our knees and beg for a place to live, or a benefit or a job?
Maybe you’re a Christchurch landlord and think you have every right to deny my existence. You do have that right but how would you want to be treated if tomorrow you were diagnosed with a mental illness, and your world came crashing down around you? Wouldn’t you want your dignity intact?
I have exactly four weeks to find somewhere to live. And sadly it is having an enormous impact on my mental health. Keep reading and I’ll be shouting from the rooftops of WordPress when I find somewhere to live.
“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox