Healing Through Acceptance

My wife Doris and I have had the opportunity to speak to people from all over the world about their experience with mental illness. On one occasion, we met with a couple and their twenty-something son that had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

We spent the better part of an hour discussing various aspects of the treatment I was receiving. I wasn’t sure how interested he was in the discussion, as he said very little and generally avoided eye contact. Towards the end, his mother asked if he had any questions. He nodded.

“I just want to know, Sean…did you get your friends back?”

He didn’t ask about the treatment program, symptom management, timeframe for reducing medication, etc. To him, and to many who suffer from mental illness, those things were all simply a means to an end: getting back a sense of acceptance and belonging.

As we continue to have these conversations we’ve discovered that, while everyone wants us to understand their circumstances, it’s nothing compared to their longing to regain the acceptance of their friends and loved ones. The negative stigma and isolation that comes from revealing one’s struggle with mental illness can sometimes be as difficult (or worse) than dealing with the illness itself.

Awareness makes a separation between the illness and the individual. At best it is intrapersonal – it’s what I know about you. This may lead to tolerance, but not necessarily social integration.

Unlike awareness, acceptance is interactive and inclusionary. It says you are welcome here and you belong despite what you may be going through. It erases dividing lines that we have a tendency to draw. I believe it’s one of the main ingredients in the glue that holds society together.

There is a fear that says, “If I accept a person with mental illness, I will be condoning undesirable and potentially violent behavior.” The fact is, a person with mental illness is more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator of it.

Unlawful or destructive behavior must certainly be dealt with in an appropriate manner. However, focusing continually on the problem often makes it worse. Without getting into the psychology of positive and negative reinforcement, let’s just say that it is absolutely possible to accept someone without being an accomplice of poor conduct. In my opinion, accepting and affirming someone are two of the best things you can do to empower them to overcome the challenges they may be facing. After all, it takes strength, not shame, to overcome weakness.

When I was ill, I brought a great deal of undesirable and destructive behavior into our home. What gave me hope and empowered me for recovery (after well-meaning medical professionals said it would likely never happen) was having someone that was intimately acquainted with the situation, who accepted me (not the behavior) as is and had the ability to redirect my focus from my limitations to strengths.

In part one of this blog series we asked, is awareness enough? From my personal experience with mental health issues and my work in trying to help others, I’d say it’s an excellent starting point. But to build the healthy thriving communities we all want to be a part of, I believe it’s necessary to also extend a hand of welcome, recognize and affirm the value of people, and partner with those that are all too often excluded from the process.


Comments 2

  1. Daphne

    Hi, Sean and Doris:

    I so appreciated seeing your video on youtube. Which led me to your website. Through much research, we are believing recovery is possible for our son, but we need him to acknowledge his illness and take part in what has to be done for recovery.

    After an episode where our son left our home on foot on a very rainy dark morning, we called 911 to help us get him to a hospital as he expressed that he thought someone was after him and did not seem to recognize us. Our just turned 24-year-old son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia form disorder. Just as Doris discussed her experience with the medical professionals, my husband and I felt the same way…left out with no answers. Because our son is an adult, we have not been part of any discussions medical professionals have had with him.

    While at the behavioral health facility he was transferred to from the hospital, through phone calls, we sensed our son was getting better. Case workers and nurses did communicate with us and relayed positive progress for our son. We believe this was because we called a lot and they could see our son was talking with us, etc. Our son took his medication and communicated with the people there. Although, now I think he only did that because he knew what steps needed to be followed to get him discharged from the facility.

    Since our son has been home, he has talked with friends and with us but does not want to discuss the illness in any way. Though he talks, he does not seem to be fully himself. He hates when we inquire to see if he has taken his medication. We took him to the facility he is to attend for outpatient care and he seemed very short with the workers and did not want us to be a part of the meeting he had with them though they were very much interested in having us join in. We believe our son is supposed to be attending regular group meetings, but is not doing so. We believe he is not accepting his illness. Our son is the oldest of six children, all pretty good kids, do well in school (homeschoolers), etc. We have just never had anything like this, but we are willing to do all we need to do to help our son.

    In addition, although our son tells us he is taking his medication, we are just not sure. He does not seem to be having the delusions, but he is being short with us at times and wants us to leave his room in the basement. We are scheduled to see a professional Christian counselor, who also attends our church, but I would love to have some tips on how to get our son to acknowledge his illness, see that he does need others and that if does the work, counseling or whatever we have to do, he can recover. My husband and I would love to get our son into a program like the one Sean attended in Florida but know it can be costly. Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you for your time.



  2. Kate

    Amazing. This blog brought tears to my eyes because it is so true. While we should get help and treatment sometimes the best help truly is being accepted. Im often labeled as shy, quiet, weird. I have suffered from depression. I over analyze, over think. And I feel like I can’t always talk about it, because people will think it’s weird, not normal. But when I accept myself and see that there are others who feel the same I don’t feel so bad. I don’t see it under such a dark light. It helps me see everything is ok I’m ok. I might be different and do things different or think different. But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. This feeling if bad and wrongness just makes it so much worse. It’s ok to feel and to feel sad. Amazing blog! Thank you!!

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