By Mykola Zubko, MA
Suicide Prevention Program Development Practicum Student at OHSU/Portland VA
When is the last time you felt like a person? For some of us, it was probably recent in small ways and large. Many people feel personhood without even knowing its absence, and yet many are left without this sense due to how they are treated every day.
Personhood, as defined by the late professor Thomas Kitwood (2019), is “a standing or status that is bestowed on one human being by others, in the context of relationship and social being. It implies recognition, respect and trust.”
Why is this important, and how does this relate to Suicide Prevention Month and better care for those within institutions (e.g., long-term care facilities, hospitals, etc.) or living with us right at home?
Dr. Kitwood is largely credited with “person-centered care” that emphasizes a person is more than their symptoms or diagnosis. This approach to treating others with, for instance, a diagnosis of depression or dementia, or symptoms of suicidality or negative self-beliefs, aims to humanize the person beyond their labels.
This can sound heady or esoteric, but imagine the next time you go to get coffee, no one in the establishment looks at you, or if they do give you the time of day, they do not listen to any of your preferences – how important would you feel? What would you start to believe about yourself if these types of interactions occurred in all facets of your life?
Person-centered care is not for just making people feel good. If you are a clinician or loved one looking to make a difference in someone else’s life, then this concept can help support you in what you are trying to accomplish.
Researchers Kim and Park (2017) found that across nineteen studies and 3,985 participants, person-centered care was able to improve depression (largely associated with suicidality) and overall quality of life in folks with dementia. Others have found that instituting person-centered care in primary clinics was associated with more significant decreases in depression and increase in patient satisfaction (Rassom et. al., 2016).
In the hierarchy of altruism towards others we have: sacrifice at the top and this is when we take a risk for others, next is generosity when we share our resources with others, and finally kindness is “simply the temporary suspension of indifference (Gladwell, 2022, 22:00).”
In order to have more effective care providers professionally or personally, we simply need to give people our consideration and time – person-centered care is just that simple. Affirming the person’s autonomy by respecting and/or recognizing their decisions and choices, including them in the treatment or care process, and validating their emotions can all make a difference in maintaining personhood.
Suicide Prevention Month is almost at an end, but the work to support those we serve and love does not have an expiration date. At the core of effective suicide prevention is collaborating to build a life worth living as defined by a given individual’s values. Learning what that life might look like starts by embracing their authentic personhood. This spirit with which we approach others translates into actions and words.
Suicide prevention begins with all of us, one interaction at a time. If we are to increase our own comfort and confidence in creating a caring community for those at risk for suicide, then we are charged to do so through words and actions grounded in clear communication, respect, recognition and compassion.
Gladwell, M. (Host). (2022, July 28th). “I Was A Stranger and You Welcomed Me” [Audio podcast episode]. In Revisionist History. Pushkin Industries. https://www.pushkin.fm/podcasts/revisionist-history/i-was-a-stranger-and-you-welcomed-me
Kim, S. K., & Park, M. (2017). Effectiveness of person-centered care on people with dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical interventions in aging, 12, 381–397. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S117637
Kitwood, T., & Brooker, D. (2019). Dementia reconsidered revisited: The person still comes first. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
Rebecca C Rossom, Leif I Solberg, Gabriela Vazquez-Benitez, A Lauren Crain, Arne Beck, Robin Whitebird, Russell E Glasgow, The effects of patient-centered depression care on patient satisfaction and depression remission, Family Practice, Volume 33, Issue 6, 1 December 2016, Pages 649–655, https://doi.org/10.1093/fampra/cmw068