What is a diagnosis? I know that many of you are even wondering why is a therapist of all people asking a question like this. I ask you to just go along with me for a minute or two and then I’ll explain why I’m asking this question. Clinically, we would say that a diagnosis is a condition either mentally or physically that requires chronic care from many different sources. For others, the diagnosis is tied to a sense of identity or even worth. Now I know that my last sentence may seem a little controversial but let me explain where I’m going with this. Many times, I’ve seen children defined and seen only by the letters that are on their treatment plan, their 504 accommodations for school, and psychological testing reports. It then bleeds over into how their friends, teachers, and family treat them. Sometimes diagnosed individuals are made to feel like they are less then human, that they are stupid and can’t function on their own, or worse that they are a burden on society. Many times, I hear young people tell me that they feel like they are standing on the outside of a large group of people, and they can’t get involved with this group no matter how many times they try. Other times, these young people tell me about how they have been either emotionally or physically abused by their peers due to their diagnosis.
Whenever I hear these stories, a part of me gets angry on behalf of these individuals. The other part of me becomes very sad. Our society has made great strides on behalf of those who have been physically and mentally disabled legally, but there are other areas where we could use some hard work. And it really goes back to the very basics of human interaction: treating others with respect and kindness no matter what the diagnosis is. But that involves some hard work internally that must be done, and it really starts with practicing this skill. We look past the diagnosis and see the individual as a living soul who thinks differently, sees the world differently, and we come alongside them whenever they are struggling. Now that might seem like an easy answer but it really isn’t. How often do we come alongside our fellow human beings who are struggling? How often do we tell them that we see their strengths despite the faults? How often do we focus on the heart of the person instead of focusing on the idea of what can they do for us or how we can use them? In short, we don’t do that.
Now many of you might feel a little salty with me for writing that last statement. Again, I ask you to let me explain where I’m going with this. I advocating for respect and dignity of those with a mental health or medical diagnosis. I’m advocating for the dignity of those who have any condition that requires chronic care. I’m advocating that we look at the soul of the individual with these conditions instead of through the lens of the condition itself. I think we all can agree that a person is unique in their own way. This uniqueness alone makes them incredibly valuable, whether they have a disability or not. Because of this inherit value, we have no right to be able to decide who is valuable and who is not based on weaknesses. That means that we have no right to treat them as less than a human being. I’ve seen a lot of individuals with a diagnosis treated as if they do not have any ability to think for themselves or even speak for themselves. But if we took the time to get to know them and see how their mind works, I think that we would find that they really think on a whole new level or maybe even a higher level then we do. We have to look past the challenges that these mental health disorder pose in order to really see the individual behind them.
Now many of you might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but you really don’t really know what it’s like to deal with someone’s illness or disability.” I’m not denying the challenges that many of these individuals or family members face because of different conditions. I’m also not denying that some of these conditions can be painful to deal with for both the individual and their support network. I am, however, advocating that we are intentionally looking for at the strengths and putting a focus on those in order to build up those who have these conditions. Is this easy? Absolutely not. There are times when the illness brings out the less than perfect side of our loved ones or us, and the results can be very painful. But we have to build up our ability to see the best in our loved ones and families in order to cope with the difficulties of these mental illnesses. This takes practice and intentionally looking for those strengths. We must also be willing to not make the diagnosis the sum and total of a person’s existence. A person is more then their ADHD, Autism, or even Depression. They are a living, breathing soul that laughs, cries, and feels pain. We should keep that in mind whenever we are interacting with those who have been diagnosed.