Whether you work in a hospital, a care home, support people living in their own homes, or attend community gatherings, it is vital that you understand why dignity is so important.

In fact, being treated with dignity is something we all want and expect. Whatever your relationship (neighbour, daughter, son, grandchild, parent, pupil, friend, work colleague or team mate), you still want to be included, listened to, and treated with respect.

Dignity is a difficult word to explain. It is about valuing individuals, showing fairness and kindness, being respectful and thoughtful, and treating everybody as a unique person, and in a way that we would want to be treated ourselves.

Situations in which you are likely to have felt great embarrassment and humiliation, forced to eat something you strongly dislike, pressed into doing something in front of a lot of people, are situations in which you may have felt bullied and powerless, and they are all examples of loss of dignity.

Also, at some point in your life, you are likely to have felt that you haven’t been listened to. Maybe you were ignored and talked over when you said you wanted to go to the pictures, and ended up having to stay at home and watching TV instead. If this was the case, you probably felt insignificant, and maybe a little worthless.

You may have been physically abused, perhaps found yourself being attacked in a pub, or were part of a road rage incident, all of which would have left you feeling terrorized, powerless and scared. These feelings aren’t good and if we have experiences like these everyday they are likely to affect our general well-being and our mental health.

Therefore, if we work with individuals who need support, be it a friend, or a relative or neighbour, it’s really important that we think about other people’s dignity and do everything that we possibly can to help them maintain it at all times.

Very few people deliberately set out to be cruel. There are, of course, some who enjoy tormenting others or abusing their power. Thankfully, though, these situations are reasonably rare and always investigated whenever cases come to light. The rest of us need to be aware that it can only take some thoughtless actions for someone’s dignity to be compromised and their confidence and self-esteem to be negatively affected. Sometimes, because we’re so busy and may not do things properly, we do not realize what effects our behaviour can have.

  • Think about a patient in a hospital who needs help to eat or drink but doesn’t get it. The meal is left on the tray and it quickly goes cold. Someone else comes around, and clears it away. How would you feel if you were the patient?
  • An older person, living on their own, needs help to get washed and dressed. Their carer, who is in a hurry, rushes through things and doesn’t give them the opportunity to do what they can. For example, they can easily rinse themselves in the shower or dry parts of the body without help, things that make them feel they aren’t totally dependent on others. The carer also decides what the clients will wear without even asking them. What would you feel if you were the clients?
  • Imagine you live in a care home and one of your fellow residents walks around terrorizing you with a walking stick in the hand. The staff seem too busy to notice and you are too timid to say anything to them. Would you like to live like this?
  • A teenager who has a learning disability is a fanatical Manchester United fan and always wears his Man United shirt. A new support worker says “I hate the Reds, they’re a rubbish team and their fans are rubbish too. In fact, I even hate the colour red.” How would you feel if you were the teenager?
  • You’re a black mother taking your son to the boy scouts, and, as you are a bit late, you park the car at a slight angle, and then quickly leave to deliver him. You return to the car and a white older man says in very loud and patronizing manner, “We don’t park cars like that in this country.” How would you feel if you were that woman?
  • Imagine you’re a wheelchair user and you turn up for a meeting in a building which isn’t wheelchair friendly, even though the person who organized the meeting knows about your disability. Would you feel valued?
  • Imagine you’re a primary school pupil and one of your friends has a violent epileptic seizure. Your teacher asks you to go next door to get help from another teacher. You do as you are told and, being a little shocked, enter the classroom without knocking. You start to explain what’s happened but the teacher stops you and angrily says “Go outside and knock before you come back in!” How would you feel and what would you do next?

In all these examples, it wouldn’t take much to change things so that everybody’s dignity was maintained. Just a bit of thought about what we say and do. After all, little things can make a big difference.

Everyone has the right to live their lives free from abuse and neglect. If we ignore the little things, situations can become much more serious, eventually leading to safeguard investigations. Nobody wants this, so it’s better to prevent them from happening.

We all have a role to play in enhancing the dignity of others including you. It’s everybody’s job and everybody’s business. Being treated with dignity is a human right, not an optional extra. Make sure that you take an active role and speak up for dignity clearly whenever you can. You have the power to make other people’s lives better.

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