Mental health and wellness depend on self-understanding, self-acceptance, resilience, and empowerment.

Accurately knowing your strengths and limitations is important to understanding your unique needs and how to fulfill your greatest potential. As a Licensed Psychologist, I have worked with many clients who felt blindsided and devastated by their mental health diagnosis because of the stigma often attached to them. The implication of the diagnosis can seem life-altering and identity-shattering. I have worked with many clients through the shock and the complex feelings that come with a diagnosis toward a deeper acceptance and self-compassion to ultimately arrive at peace and empowerment. In this blog post, I will talk about why acceptance is not only helpful for navigating mental health concerns but also for living well with them.

Why is acceptance important when it comes to managing a mental health diagnosis and living well with it?

A mental health diagnosis can feel as overwhelming and devastating as a physical health diagnosis. In my experience as a psychologist and as a person who has been diagnosed with mental health concerns in the past, I know the complex mix of feelings that can accompany a mental health diagnosis. For some people, the stigma associated with any mental health concern is intensely shameful. For some, the idea of having to manage a diagnosis for the rest of their lives is dreadful and suffocating. For some, the diagnosis will dramatically change how they understand themselves and their identities. It is important to process the complex set of emotions that can arise with a new diagnosis (e.g., fear, shame, relief, sadness, anger, grief, etc.) to come to a place of acceptance. From that place of acceptance, taking action toward caring for yourself and healing will be easier. Not accepting the diagnosis, on the other hand, can lead to worsening symptoms, isolation, negative impacts on your life (e.g., getting fired from your job, separation or divorce, financial consequences), and even death. For example, eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses. Denying or ignoring an eating disorder can be extremely dangerous to your short-term and long-term health outcomes. 

How can psychoeducation help someone accept a diagnosis?

Psychoeducation can help you accept your diagnosis by providing information that you need to know about the prognosis and treatment options. I have found that with my clients, the more they understand and know about their symptoms and diagnosis, the less overwhelmed and afraid they feel. Knowledge is power when it comes to a better understanding of yourself and the kinds of support that are available to you. For example, you may feel devastated if you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder due to the stigma and sensationalization of the disorder in the media. However, once you learn that many people have successfully managed their bipolar disorder with healthy habits, social support, and if necessary, the right medication, and go on to live fulfilling and normal lives, you may feel much less intimidated by the disorder.

How can support from others -- like peer support groups -- help someone accept a diagnosis?

Support groups and a strong social network can be powerful and necessary components to help someone accept their diagnosis. A new mental health diagnosis can feel so alien and isolating. You may be wondering, “Am I alone in this?” and “Will anyone understand what I am going through?” You are not alone and many people will understand your experience. A 2023 poll showed that around 45-50% of adults sampled had a mental health diagnosis. Meeting other people who come from diverse backgrounds and are managing their symptoms successfully can validate your experience and help you to accept, or even embrace your diagnosis.

What else can someone do to work toward accepting a mental health diagnosis?

A metaphor that I like to use with my clients is that learning about a new diagnosis is like learning for the first time that you need glasses. It is not a good or bad thing to need glasses but it does require an adjustment in your life. Over time, you will become accustomed to wearing glasses, bringing glasses with you, and even liking how the glasses add to your personality and style. 

I also encourage my clients to accept a mental health diagnosis as a practice of resistance against an ableist status quo that sees any form of diagnosis, illness, or disability as a weakness. To own your diagnosis, to speak out against mental health stigma, and to advocate for better care and treatment are all forms of activism that can make our world a better place.

Caveats about mental health diagnosis

I want to add that mental health diagnoses can be vague and subject to the bias of the provider. There is debate among mental health providers and researchers about whether the diagnoses are helpful or even meaningful. This is why the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has been revised many times and continues to be under revision. Many mental and physical health diagnoses share the same symptoms. For example, if you are having a hard time concentrating and following through on tasks, your symptoms may be due to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, dementia, thyroid disorder, sensory processing disorder, low blood sugar, etc. Different cultures also understand symptoms differently. For instance, a psychotic episode may be the initiation of shamanism in indigenous cultures and is celebrated rather than feared. If your diagnosis does not feel like it fits you well or you suspect that there may be other causes, listen to your intuition. Get a second or third opinion if you are unsure. Go to a naturopath or an Eastern medicine practitioner for perspectives different from traditional Western medicine. You are the authority of your health and your life.

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If you're struggling to come to terms with your mental health diagnosis, you don't have to face it alone. Our team of compassionate therapists is here to offer support, guidance, and understanding every step of the way. Together, we'll work towards fostering acceptance, empowering you to embrace your journey towards mental wellness with confidence and resilience.