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Citizen Who? Making sense of full citizenship.

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

An image collage of people from around the world. Image contains pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, hands held up in the air, a man sitting and an illustration of a heart.

One of the Mind-Life Mindset states that:

“People thrive when they can realise their full citizenship within their natural community “

Full citizenship is an often-used term in the mental health arena – but are we ever really sure what we mean by it? And what’s more how does it relate to us either when we are accessing or providing help?

This blog will explore just that and take us through a few different thinkers and ideas to get there.

First thing is - it’s not about “Citizen Kane” the 1941 Orsen Welles movie which is rated one of the best movies of all time and tells the rags to riches story of a media magnate looking for love and never being able to find or give it. Or maybe it is?

Perhaps full citizenship is precisely about the search for love, humanity, and connections.

We can look to all the great historical and political thinkers to explore its meaning Plato, Rousseau and the Enlightenment, even Marx – in fact all throughout human history we have shaped and reshaped our understanding of citizenship and what it means to create a civil society. Different regimes and structures are created to sift and sort humanity and respond to events.

Most often when we think about citizenship we think about our rights in relation to the country where we live. Sadly, this is very topical in these times of mass humanitarian distress and dislocation.

Here is a comprehensive definition from Encyclopedia Britannica that may help:

Citizenship is the relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection.

Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities. Citizens have certain rights, duties, and responsibilities that are denied or only partially extended to aliens and other noncitizens residing in a country. In general, full political rights, including the right to vote and to hold public office, are predicted upon citizenship.

The usual responsibilities of citizenship are allegiance, taxation, and military service.

Citizenship is certainly sought after and very valuable.

It seems then the essence of citizenship encompasses a right to freedom, protection, and contribution. A mutual sense of responsibility in the world. A sort of contract to be both protected by society and to be able contribute to it.

Back in 1762 Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote “The Social Contract” a detailed and illuminating read and with a cry for human liberty that is said to have helped spark the French Revolution. He starts “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains”.

So, freedom and rights are essential to citizenship.

What about contribution then? To the Greeks the obligations of citizenship were deeply connected with everyday life. Aristotle said, “To be truly human, one has to be an active citizen in the community.”

He went on to posit, “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god”. Strong words indeed. Although I do think the connection between being truly human and being active, connected and involved speaks to our understanding of full citizenship.

Perhaps this is what we mean in our mental health arena when we talk about social inclusion and natural community? The place where we experience mutual contribution and responsibility, where we can see our value and role, the very same society and community where everyone plays, works, and lives.

Full citizenship may also be alive and well in the environments where people can design and lead their own supports and contribute fully to program and policy design in the mental health arena.

The International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) signed in March 2007 has plenty to offer us here.

Can this International Convention help us to understand how full citizenship relates to us when we are accessing or providing help?

Can it also help us define what we think about when we say natural community?

I think it can.

Essentially the purpose of the CRPD is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

The principles of the present Convention shall be:

(a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons;

(b) Non-discrimination;

(c) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;

(d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human

diversity and humanity;

(e) Equality of opportunity;

(f) Accessibility;

(g) Equality between men and women;

(h) Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the

right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

The Articles of the Convention cover all aspects of full citizenship including, work, education, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, accessibility, health, independent living and more.

So, when we say as a Mind-Life Mindset that

“People thrive when they can realise their full citizenship within their natural community“

we really are encompassing the essence of the CRPD and the great philosophical and political thinkers over history.

In simple terms to me full citizenship is that beautiful space where people can access the benefits of society – all of them – not just some, and where they feel they belong and have an important role to play.

Full citizenship is when I can realise my hopes and dreams and discover my purpose. Where I can contribute to all the aspects of life in all its magical randomness. Full citizenship is more than my right to vote (which is actually a highly prized right and frequently fought for), it’s also my right to love and laugh and marry who I want or not to marry, to search my own faith and practice it, to connect with family and friends, to be a son, or father, or mother, or step mother. To be a creative artist or a mathematician. It is to be able to contribute to the world in the way I am most uniquely suited for – maybe as a cleaner, or a teacher, or a barista, a dog walker, a hairdresser, a writer, a politician the options are endless.

Full citizenship is life itself.

This focus on thriving as the realisation of full citizenship becomes an important Mindset to embrace because often people who experience mental illness or psychosocial disability do not always have the same opportunities to live freely. Sometimes those opportunities are not embraced or explored because of fear or concern about capability or risk. Sometimes those opportunities are smothered or atrophied by interventions that do not pay full attention to all of the aspects of full citizenship.

Embracing a Mindset that invites us all to consider full citizenship in its political, philosophical, and practical sense opens doors for people to thrive.

A truly civil society is one where everyone can contribute. It is made stronger by its divergent parts.

Full citizenship is truly about the richness of life in all its messiness, its highs and lows, where each of us get to be the heroes in our own lives, where we get to overcome whichever hurdle or dragon we may encounter, take the risks and brave steps we need to and feel the joy of life itself.

Finally, when we say within their natural community – we really do mean that wild and wonderful, unpredictable world where everyone lives and works and plays, not artificial worlds created by services, but that really is a subject for another blog.

As we said at the beginning thinking about Citizen Kane’s story, perhaps full citizenship is precisely about the search for love, humanity, identity and connections. Maybe enacting and experiencing our full citizenship is where we find our true purpose and meaning.

The question is for us when either accessing or providing help then becomes how do we make sure we do not ignore our or others full citizenship in the process?


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Unknown member
Jul 26, 2021

I fully agree with the value of participation in community to mental health and well being as well as providing meaning of life. I think as a society we fall down by missing the important balance required between freedom and responsibility. Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities. Freedom without responsibility does not improve mental health, self esteem or produce healthy constructive participation. Maybe due to historical imbalances in relation to lack of freedom for some people, we seem now to focus solely on ensuring freedoms. That is equally imbalanced. It is the fulfillment of responsibility within a free community that really produces a self of sense worth and meaning. Having rights with no obligation for responsibility produces…

Unknown member
Jul 26, 2021
Replying to

Thank you for your comment - yes the fulfillment of responsibility produces a sense of self worth. We need to be able to participate and contribute to feel we belong - to me this is full-citizenship being recognized for what each of us can offer

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