‘Dignity’ – what does it mean to you?


With 1st February 2014, marking ‘Dignity in Care’ day, I thought it would be a good  opportunity to reflect on the subject of dignity.

For some it’s about being listened to, for others it’s about being respected and valued as an individual but for me, it goes much deeper than that.

There’s a key element to this question – what does it mean for you? If you asked 10 different people, you would most likely get 10 different answers because dignity is defined by the person, by an individual and not by society as a whole. Depending on your personal experience, it could be about choice and control; respecting people’s personal space and having privacy in their personal care; or it might be something as simple as just being heard.

The latter I know was true for a member of my family who suffers from a mental health condition and has done for many years. In the earliest days of her illness, there were times of frustration simply because she believed that no one was really listening to her; no one really wanted to hear what she had to say; her voice lost because she’d already been labelled. She was still a person though; she still had the right to be listened to; she had the right to be respected – she had the right to be treated with dignity.

Fortunately and thanks to the brilliant staff at the Newsam Centre (part of Leeds and York NHS Partnership Foundation Trust), her dignity was restored. The staff at Newsam cared enough to let her talk; they truly listened to what she believed her care and support needs were. A simple act of listening meant that her mental health improved significantly. She feels stronger; more in control and has been able to influence the choices made about what she believed would put her back on the path to being the person she once knew, and ultimately the person she wants to be again. 

To me, dignity is a basic human right and this quote captures it so simply;

“Without dignity, identity is erased.”

Nobody in social care services wants anyone’s identity to be erased. For this reason, we don’t just ‘think’ about dignity, we make sure we’re ‘doing‘ everything we can to ensure people are treated with respect.

Back in 2007, Leeds adult social care services started a ‘Dignity in Care’ campaign which became a key part of all our services. Leeds was considered a pioneering city for driving the dignity agenda forward, winning awards for best practice. Other organisations and cities in the UK keenly followed our commitment to putting dignity at the forefront of all care.  

Following the success of the campaign, a ‘Dignity Champions’ network was formed and is still running today. The champions are mainly older adults who care for, and support other older adults by visiting them in their care homes and auditing the services provided.  The value of having these champions is that the people they talk to, see them as peers who understand their needs; who can relate to how they might feel and what dignity might mean to them. There are no official clip boards; suits and ties; it’s relaxed; it’s open and most importantly; it promotes honest discussions. This helps to give us better feedback about the services provided; making them better for anyone in the city who needs them.    

So on the 1st February, I’ll be thinking about how I can better support the people around me; treat them how I would like to be treated. If you would like to share what dignity means to you, please comment below or email us at asc.comms@leeds.gov.uk.

It’s really important for us to understand and find out about individual experiences so we can further improve our health and social care system so it works for you. It’s all part of our journey to ‘Better Lives for People in Leeds’. You can also find out what ‘Better Lives’ really means to people in Leeds by watching our short film here.

“It is not necessarily a day for the ‘grand gesture’ but more about taking the time to do something, however small to remind society that dignity in care is everybody’s business.”


Zoe Irish

About betterlivesleeds

Health, social and age-related care services working together to make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing
This entry was posted in Health and Wellbeing, Independence, Mental Health, Safeguarding, Working together and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘Dignity’ – what does it mean to you?

  1. phil gleeson says:

    a sign or token of respect, is one of the meanings in the dictionary.

    to me dignity is respecting others peoples wishes, ensuring that at the end of life a person is given all the help and comfort you can give to help them move on peacefully and as pain free physically/mentally as humanly possible. dignity in general is just following these and respecting all peoples beliefs/wishes in life.

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