As a few of you know, I have had the privilege to work with quite a few agencies over my career thus far giving me some wonderful experience and training that I otherwise would never have gotten. As a result, I’ve noticed that certain agencies have a tendency to reduce their patients to the sum of their diagnosis. As Aristotle once said, however, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This means that looking at a person as a whole rather than their individual parts is much more powerful, especially in this context.

Let me explain more. All of us can be described as a few different things. For example, my good friend and colleague is a counselor, an athlete, an advocate, a daughter, a girlfriend, an animal lover, and an outdoor enthusiast. But she is always a whole person, a complete individual. While it is helpful to analyze the different parts of ourselves, we can never reduce ourselves to our parts. We must always understand ourselves as a whole person.

Therefore, we are a person first who is made up of many parts.

Let’s put this into the context of mental illness. I hear many people describe their mental illness in something of a fatalistic sort of way. “I have depression/anxiety/schizophrenia/etc.” This is an important statement to make, as it creates acceptance of something we’re struggling with.

However, I’ve noticed it can take over someone’s identity and they are thus reduced to a mere part of themselves instead of continuing to view themselves as a whole individual with many other complex qualities.

A lot of this can stem from healthcare and insurance systems. Healthcare systems that take insurance are often required to very quickly make a diagnosis. Oftentimes, this gets communicated to the client in an unhealthy way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow co-workers refer to someone as “a schizophrenic” or “an addict” or “a borderline” or “a depressed person.”

I’m sorry but us healthcare workers need to stop this right now and work on changing our language because it comes off as rather fatalistic. Essentially, it’s saying “you are always this diagnosis, you will always be this diagnosis” instead of providing the hope that our clients genuinely need.

If you are a client, I’d like you to simply be aware of this particular dynamic so that you can take measures to prevent buying into it.

Yes, mental illness is real but it can be overcome. This includes addiction. I really do believe that if you struggle with addiction, you are not necessarily always going to be an addict.

You are a person first who struggles with addiction who can continue to become a person who struggles with addictive tendencies to maybe even a person who struggles with addictive tendencies in remission.

Same with depression or any other mental illness.

You are a person first. You are not a diagnosis. You are allowed to retain all the other parts of your identity simply because you struggle with mental illness. You are allowed to have hope that you will find a way to overcome your struggles and they will help shape who you will become.

While many healthcare systems don’t help, it is up to us to decide how we will view our mental illness and we will have to fight to retain the whole of who we are instead of being reduced to our parts.

Feel free to leave a comment or book a session to talk about how to break through these barriers!