Dignity could be defined as the respect and the right to be valued that we all deserve for the fact of being people. It is considered as part of Human Rights , and is associated with other values ​​such as equality, security, autonomy and freedom. In other words, any person treated with dignity should also be treated as an equal, without threatening their safety, autonomy and freedom.

We think that the right to dignity is easy to fulfill , however, we see that it is not put into practice as much as we think. There are multiple social groups that are not treated with dignity in society, and although there are specific cases in different social and cultural contexts, we will speak from our perspective, Western societies. Specifically, from the field of social exclusion.

Social exclusion is defined as “the process by which individuals or groups are totally or partially excluded from full participation in the society in which they live” . It is closely related to the situation of poverty, and people who live in this type of environment are not only characterized by having lower income, but also by greater difficulty in accessing the resources of society , participating in it or achieve a status similar to any person who has developed socially integrated.

Social exclusion and dignity

However, it is common for there to be people who, although they were not raised in an environment of social exclusion (the illustrative example of “marginal” neighborhoods), can reach this area of ​​risk of poverty when they encounter permanent economic problems. It is clear the case of people with difficulties in accessing a job, or those who fall into the circle of job insecurity, linking temporary contracts with times of unemployment, jobs with poor conditions, etc. It also occurs in social groups with greater difficulty in accessing employment, from people in charge of single-parent families (usually women), people with disabilities, with mental disorders, people over 45, young people, people in immigration situations, of non-white ethnic groups , women in a situation of widowhood,etc. Even having a chronic disease, or having to receive high-cost medical treatments in which we have to pay a percentage (as with prescriptions in Spain), increases the risk of falling into poverty. It is also the case of housewives who receive very low non-contributory or widowhood pensions, or people who in the years prior to retirement do not have access to a job due to age discrimination, with the cut in the pension that that carries.

People at risk of poverty and / or social exclusion, or those who are directly in those circumstances, by not being integrated into society in the same way as other people from more normative classes, see their dignity reduced. It is no longer that they also see their autonomy, their security and their freedom curtailed, in addition to that they are not treated as socially equal. This is easy to see with everyday examples:

– They live on social economic aid for which they have to constantly justify their economic and family situation.

– Social economic aid is of low amounts because if they allow to live in a somewhat comfortable way, society fears that “they will settle into their situation”.

– Society monitors whether people in situations of poverty and / or social exclusion behave as such : they cannot consume the same as the rest because they would be wasting, it is only well seen if they buy what is necessary to live. It is frowned upon that they consume leisure, in stores that are not low-cost, or have vices such as tobacco.

– Although people living in poverty and / or social exclusion have greater difficulties in accessing employment, they are judged for not working .

– People in this situation are not allowed to choose what they want to work for, as they should accept “any job” because the important thing is that they earn money (although others do want to build a career based on their interests).

– Social ties with people can be reduced because they cannot access the same type of leisure activities (for example, going to dinner with friends), or other people fear that they will ask for money.

– They are victims of many stereotypes , and it is believed that all socially excluded people are the same.

– In schools, boys and girls can be discriminated against by their teachers and classmates.

– Lack of income leads to accepting jobs with very poor conditions , which entail risks for physical and mental health, and with totally nullified labor rights.

We may think that these attitudes are very negative and should not be had, but in reality we do, as a society and individually . It is also due to ignorance and to falling into the false illusion that all people have the same opportunities. Whether it is a situation in which a person lives since childhood in a context of poverty and / or social exclusion, or if it is someone who has seen their income level drastically reduced, all these conditions that we have listed take their toll. on an emotional level.

The Effects of Lack of Dignity on Mental Health

As a society, people living in poverty and / or social exclusion are stigmatized and blamed a lot, among other reasons for the myth of equal opportunities that we mentioned earlier. Thus, the person in this situation also assumes that guilt and sees his freedom reduced as if he had to render an account to others. They are not allowed to have goals or illusions beyond survival and caring for the family. These situations are accompanied by low self-esteem, increased risk of suffering from mental disorders, lack of social support, stress, high exposure to frustrating situations, etc. A whole scenario to see reduced psychological well-being, in addition to physical health, which is affected by nutritional deficiencies, ignorance and the reduced ability to implement healthy lifestyle habits, etc.

And all this is not due to merely psychological issues, but simply due to a social and human issue: the lack of dignity, rights and citizenship status. So our psychological health is not only summarized in our way of facing situations , in our personality, the relaxation sessions we do or how our upbringing has been. The social and cultural level has a very strong component, and that is why it is very important to always address the social and community aspect of psychology. 

Elle Mcdonald

I am Elle Mcdonald Specializations in Psychology . Graduated in psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2000. Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and psychological treatments with excellent results.

First Level of Master in Clinical Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Therapists (recognized with a scientific-professional nature by the College of Psychologists)

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